Thursday 22 August 2019

Conor Murray: Criticism of Aki is unfair, he's done nothing wrong and we're proud to have him

Bundee Aki during Ireland rugby squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Kildare. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki during Ireland rugby squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Kildare. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Conor Murray has leapt to the defence of Bundee Aki, saying his new Ireland colleague has come in for unfair criticism.

The Auckland-born Connacht centre is expected to make his international debut for his adopted country on Saturday against South Africa and has become the latest lightning rod for those railing against World Rugby’s three-year residency rule.

A New Zealander who also qualifies to play for Samoa, Aki signed for Connacht in 2014 and has gone on to become one of the most impactful players in European rugby.

This season, he qualifies to play for Ireland on residency grounds and looks set to go straight into Joe Schmidt’s team for the season-opener against the Springboks.

World Rugby have changed their laws around residency, extending the period a player must spend in one country in order to qualify for that country’s national team from three to five years. The change takes effect from 2020.

Aki is the latest player to qualify for Ireland under the old laws, following Richardt Strauss, Rodney Ah You, Robbie Diack, Jared Payne, CJ Stander and Nathan White.

And the decision to include him has come in for criticism, with former Ireland lock Neil Francis describing it as “morally wrong”.

“It’s tough on a player like that, he came over here and played rugby and qualified for Ireland the right way," Murray said.

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“I know people have different opinions on that, but singling a player out like that is really unfair. Bundee hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“We’re lucky to have him in our squad, it’s unfair for someone to feel that heat off the media when he hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Ireland coach Simon Easterby confirmed that Jack Conan, Tommy O’Donnell and Dan Leavy sat out training this morning.

All three are extremely doubtful to be involved against South Africa as a result, leaving Peter O’Mahony, Rhys Ruddock, Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander the remaining fit back-rows.

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