Thursday 22 February 2018

Brian O'Driscoll on why the Bundee Aki selection is getting more 'column inches' than some other project players

Jared Payne (left), Bundee Aki (centre) and Jared Payne (right).
Jared Payne (left), Bundee Aki (centre) and Jared Payne (right).
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

The reason that Bundee Aki's Ireland selection is generating more debate than previous project players is because the Kiwi is such a special talent, according to Brian O'Driscoll.

There have been plenty of articles this week once again scrutinising rugby's residency rules after Aki was picked by Joe Schmidt to start against South Africa, with the Ireland coach and some of the players feeling that the media coverage was unfair on the Connacht star.

Jared Payne and CJ Stander were similarly high profile imports who were nationalised after spending three seasons in Ireland, but Aki's case seems to have created even more of a debate.

Speaking on Off The Ball last night, O'Driscoll said that Aki's high performance level for Connacht is the reason why his inclusion in the Irish team has caused such controversy.

"There was the same scrutiny with CJ Stander and maybe a bit less so with Richardt Strauss and Jared Payne," he said.

"The difference, and it is a compliment to the two lads, is that they are such big players. CJ is a huge player and the manner with which he broke into the Munster team and became a go-to player, and Bundee is a central character for Connacht. That is why they are getting the attention, that is why they are getting more column inches than the Rob Herrings of the world or whoever else you might pick as project players.

"It is because they are going to stand out, and not to do with standing out because of their skin colour or anything like that, standing out because of their playing capabilities."

O'Driscoll added that he expects Aki to hit the ground running when he pulls on the green jersey for the first time against South Africa this evening.

"Bundee Aki is a great addition to this squad," O'Driscoll said.

"He has absolutely played his way in. He is not being capped because someone else might snatch him. He is now an international calibre player.

"I think Joe had a couple of options. He could have played him for his first test against Fiji and then played him in the third test of the November series. But Joe has nailed his colours to the mast and said this guy is absolutely worthy of a start and he has almost put the pressure back on Bundee to perform at a level that he hasn't played at yet."

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