Saturday 21 September 2019

Bundee Aki set for Ireland call​ as Rob Kearney eyes return


Bundee Aki of Connacht. Photo: Sportsfile
Bundee Aki of Connacht. Photo: Sportsfile

Ruaidhri O'Connor​

Connacht star Bundee Aki is expected to be named in an Ireland squad for the first time today as Joe Schmidt unveils his hand for the November internationals.

The New Zealander, who is also eligible to play for Samoa, qualifies to play for Ireland after spending three successful seasons with the western province and is in line to make his debut at the Aviva Stadium next month.

His Connacht team-mate Tom McCartney and Ulster prop Wiehahn Herbst are now also eligible through residency and it remains to be seen if they will be included today as the Ireland coach picks his squad for the games against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina.

The international window comes too soon for Munster out-half Tyler Bleyendaal who qualifies for Ireland in January.

Schmidt is set to name a large squad to allow for rotation between the two games against Tier One opponents and the meeting with Fiji in between.

Rob Kearney is set to give the Ireland coach a timely boost by returning to action with Leinster in Saturday's meeting with Ulster alongside Lions flanker Seán O'Brien.

That could influence the decision on whether to include Simon Zebo after his departure at the end of the season was announced earlier this week.

Kearney has not played since damaging his hamstring in September, while Jared Payne is yet to feature for Ulster this season.

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The Louth man has been involved in squad training since last week and if he comes through the sessions later this week he is set to start at the Kingspan Stadium.

Schmidt is certain to be without injured stars Jamie Heaslip, Garry Ringrose, Josh van der Flier and Niall Scannell, while Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding's enforced absence continues as they await trial on rape charges.

Ireland open the series against the Springboks on November 11, before meeting Fiji a week later and finishing against the Pumas who knocked them out in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final.

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