Saturday 26 May 2018

Kiwi Aki heads west and gives himself three years to make Ireland team

Bundee Aki has committed himself to Connacht for the next three years
Bundee Aki has committed himself to Connacht for the next three years
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Connacht's latest recruit from New Zealand is already targeting international rugby with Ireland.

Waikato Chiefs centre Bundee Aki committed to the Westerners on a three-year deal last weekend and will have to wait until the conclusion of that contract before he qualifies to wear the green jersey.

His signing from the reigning two-time Super Rugby champions is quite a coup for Connacht and Pat Lam, and he is determined to follow Richardt Strauss on the residency path to the green jersey.

Rodney Ah You, Robbie Diack and Rob Herring are others who have arrived in similar circumstances who have been involved in Ireland squads this season, while Ulster's Jared Payne is expected to be a leading contender to succeed Brian O'Driscoll when he qualifies in September.

Aki will arrive in Galway after the end of the Counties Manukau's ITM Cup campaign in October.

His exit was partly forced by the return to rugby union of dual star Sonny Bill Williams, who will join the Chiefs next season.

"It was a really tough decision," said the 24-year-old who also qualifies to play for Samoa as well as his native New Zealand.

COMMITMENT

"It's a long commitment. I put a lot of thought into it, looking at my options in terms of international rugby.

"Obviously the All Blacks have got their midfielders and with Sonny coming back, it's not a bad thing for me to go. Hopefully, if I do the hard yards over there, good things will come."

The centre spoke to fellow Connacht Kiwis Ah You, Nathan White and Craig Clarke, the former Chiefs captain who joined Connacht before this season and is currently out after a career-threatening string of concussions, before making his decision.

"It will be different for us as a family but we'll enjoy it when we get there," he said of his decision to uproot his young family to Galway.

"That (playing for Ireland) is a big part of my decision to move. Hopefully when the time is right and if I'm playing good footy, I can play for the Ireland international team.

"I've got to play well before that, though. I'm eligible for Samoa. That was another big decision for myself – to see if I would play for them or not. If I play three years over here and it doesn't go well, I can always go back to Samoa.

"They are a good international team as well but I'm just trying to look after my family and myself."

Irish Independent

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