Saturday 17 August 2019

Schmidt praises Aki impact

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Reuters
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Reuters
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Joe Schmidt hailed the impact of Bundee Aki after the Connacht centre put in an impressive shift on his Ireland debut. Aki was hugely aggressive in defence and set the tone with an early shuddering hit on Coenie Oosthuizen that ended the South African prop's game.

Playing alongside his former team-mate Robbie Henshaw, the pair picked up where they left before the Athlone native left for Leinster, and Schmidt was suitably impressed with their contribution.

Ireland's line-speed was phenomenal as the Springboks struggled to live with their intensity, and Aki was central to that as he slotted in seamlessly to Andy Farrell's defensive system.

Aki topped the tackle count with 17 and while he didn't quite get the chance to sparkle in attack, there is plenty more to come from him in an Ireland jersey.

"I don't think anyone was surprised that the synergy was pretty good there," a delighted Schmidt said. "Bundee got in some smashing tackles - one where we got the turnover where CJ got onto the ball.

"He is a very calm character and in training during the week, quiet words. He brings a fair bit of experience even though that was his debut today.

"He and Robbie have a real understanding. That was part of what made it a little bit more comfortable for us in putting that combination together. I thought Bundee was super.

"The margins tend to be exaggerated some time. Three games ago they got beaten by 57 points, then the next time the All Blacks were lucky to beat them - it was a one-point loss, when they could so easily have won that. We'd be naive to think the next time we play there'd be a 35-point gap.

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South Africa's No 8 Francois Louw, meanwhile, had no excuses for his side's humbling defeat.

"It's pretty much up there with the worst," he said.

"We have not done what we wanted to achieve today. We were chasing the game early on, a bit of ill-discipline put the Irish on the scoreboard and to be fair to them, they took massive advantage of that.

"You don't want to be chasing games like this. They were good tactically, they definitely kept us on the pump and got the result. In these conditions, the ball is going to be a bit slippery, and as an alternative it turned into a kick-chase kind of game.''

Sean O'Brien, meanwhile, insisted that the scoreline flattered Ireland.

"We work really hard to keep the ball and that was part of our plan today - to kick it up in the air and put as much pressure on them as possible and we got a few scraps and a few bounces of the ball, which went our way," he said. "We have a lot of competition for places."

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