Friday 23 June 2017

Aki fired up to ensure Champions Cup berth for new coach Keane

Bundee Aki was speaking at the launch of the new partnership between Kinetica Sports, Ireland’s leading sports nutritional brand, and Hell & Back, Ireland’s toughest physical and mental endurance. Photo: INPHO/James Crombie
Bundee Aki was speaking at the launch of the new partnership between Kinetica Sports, Ireland’s leading sports nutritional brand, and Hell & Back, Ireland’s toughest physical and mental endurance. Photo: INPHO/James Crombie
David Kelly

David Kelly

Connacht centre Bundee Aki has vowed that even though Pat Lam won't be around next season, the reigning Guinness PRO12 champions can rubberstamp his legacy by retaining their place in the top flight of European rugby.

Aki was riled by the shock news earlier this season of Lam's departure and in an infamous salty tweet expressed his anger as well as earning him an internal disciplinary slap on the wrist.

However, he has stressed that his anger was not necessarily because of his professional circumstances but rather the strong personal bond he had developed with the former Samoan World Cup captain.

"The contract side of it had nothing to do with it, I think it was just the relationship I had with Pat," said Aki.

"We're really close - and we still are. We're really good mates and he's a good coach to me, and I've learned a lot from him.

"I really think it was just the heat of the moment and I said to him, 'Look, normal people react like that but I'm happy for you.'

"People were aware of my tweet when Pat announced it, but I did over-react. Everyone makes their own decisions and you're either happy with it or you try and make it a positive thing, and Pat's been a great influence on that team but also on the province as well."

Characteristically, Lam's response was personal, rather than professional; even if club rules dictated a necessary punishment; in essence, the penalty was for tweeting so close to a game, rather than his grudging sentiment ("pissed").

"He didn't say anything, he was just smiling as usual," he laughs. "He's always smiling.

"Pat's a smiler, he's a lovely person, he puts a lot of hard work into us. That's what he definitely has done to me and the contract side of things had nothing to do with that."

Read more: 'I can't parachute my way in there' - Bundee Aki coy on the prospect of playing for Ireland

That relationship will end within weeks, even earlier if Connacht can't force their way into the Champions Cup next season but Aki is adamant that last year's champions must return there.

"Every team wants to play in that Champions Cup. That's where all the best players are, to be perfectly honest. That's our challenge, to keep going and keep winning our games.

"We've got three games left and they're against three teams in the top four at the moment, so that's all a challenge and part of making us a better team, to try and get into the Champions Cup again.

Success

Aki is also convinced that Lam's replacement, Kieran Keane, can be a success out west.

"I wasn't there when he got to the Chiefs but all I've heard about him is a lot of good things.

"The boys are excited and looking forward to seeing what Kieran can bring to us. Hopefully he can work really well for us throughout the years.

"I've heard he is a disciplinarian - I'll have to look out for that! Disciplinarian! I'll be watching out for that! All the players who I've talked to have said at first if you don't know him, you'll think that he's trying to come hard at you as a player. But by the end of it you'll love him for what he did for you and how he did it."

Bundee Aki was speaking at the launch of the new partnership between Kinetica Sports, Ireland's leading sports nutritional brand, and Hell & Back, Ireland's toughest physical and mental endurance challenge

Irish Independent

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