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Bundee Aki relishing clash with several familiar New Zealand faces

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Bundee Aki arrives for Ireland rugby squad training at Carton House in Maynooth on Wednesday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Bundee Aki arrives for Ireland rugby squad training at Carton House in Maynooth on Wednesday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Bundee Aki arrives for Ireland rugby squad training at Carton House in Maynooth on Wednesday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Bundee Aki is the only player in tomorrow’s Ireland team who can boast a 100pc winning record against New Zealand.

That helps in a week like this, when emotions are sure to be running high as Aki, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park get set to take on the country of their birth.

Facing the haka in 2018, before Ireland famously went on to beat the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium, was a special feeling that will always stay with Aki, who goes up against several of his former team-mates.

“I get along with a lot of them,” Aki said. “I played with a good handful of them, and against them as well, but we all know what’s in hand. We just go out there and play the game as it should be played and then have a good chat afterwards if we’re allowed to. We haven’t really been in contact.”

As of yet, the Ireland squad do not have special plans to meet the haka, yet that could change between now and kick-off.

Aki, Lowe and Gibson-Park will certainly have a deep appreciation for its significance, so it will be fascinating to see if the trio come up with something.

“Not so much yet, but you know, it’s always a privilege to be in front of the haka,” Aki  said.

“It’s a huge honour to have the haka be done in front of you. I certainly know the background of it, and the meanings behind it. It’s a privilege to be able to stand there and get the haka done towards you, the other country.”

Aki’s family, including his kids, will be watching on from back home in New Zealand, as they, too, face an emotional occasion.

“They are obviously excited,” the Connacht centre said.

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“My family, friends and my kids are all in New Zealand, so they will definitely be up for the game, watching with a lot of interest.

“Parents are obviously supporting both teams and making sure that no one comes out with any injuries. Obviously, they want our team to go well, too. 

“My family always say to play to the ball, play with a humble heart and make sure you go hard and do the best you can for the team.”

Despite playing a key role in the win in Dublin three years ago, Aki rejects the notion that the aura surrounding the All Blacks has been diminished, particularly in light of the heavy quarter-final defeat at the 2019 World Cup.

The former Chiefs midfielder missed that game due to suspension, but now back in the starting team, the 31-year-old is relishing the challenge.

“2018 was important, it was a good day for us, for Irish rugby, but I think New Zealand is a different kettle of fish at the moment, they are improving every single year,” he insisted. 

“You have seen what they have done in the Rugby Championship, as well as coming here on their November tour. I can’t speak highly enough about how good they have gone as a group and as a team.

“I think the aura is still there, isn’t it? Whenever the All Blacks’ name comes up, you know you’re in for a big one, because they are the best in the world and I keep saying it.

“It’s no easy task trying to beat the All Blacks and it’s a tough task for us as a group of players going into a game like that. You have to do everything right to play well against the world’s best.”

When asked if he and his fellow team-mates had discussed the controversy surrounding the Ireland women’s squad, Aki added:
“No, we haven’t. We will certainly be supporting them this weekend against USA at the RDS. I’ve coached women’s rugby before and I’ll certainly be watching with a lot of interest and wish them all the best.”


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