Ireland will tap into Bundee Aki’s inside knowledge of the All Blacks ahead of Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final in Tokyo according to forwards coach Simon Easterby.
The centre is suspended for the rest of the tournament and, even if he successfully appeals that decision, he would still be unlikely to feature given that decision would come late in the week.
The IRFU have clarified that Aki can continue to train with the team, with his ban only kicking in on match-days when he will be unable to take part in the warm-up.
Auckland born Aki received a red card in the first-half of Ireland’s 47-5 win over Samoa after he was found to have committed a dangerous tackle on Ulupano Seuteni.
A three-man committee upheld that decision on Monday night, meaning he will have no part to play against a host of his former Chiefs team-mates.
Easterby says the 29-year-old still has a role to play.
“Massively. He's a good trainer anyway, but he'll be fully focused on trying to prepare the lads in the best way possible for the game on Saturday and there’s no better man for knowing how the Kiwis work and how they might be approaching this," he said.
“He's a big part of this group and he'll continue to be part of it no matter the outcome of the report.”
Ireland are awaiting the arrival of that report – a full written decision explaining the judgement – before deciding whether to appeal. They have 48 hours from the time they receive it to make that call.
"Until we've seen the report we don't know what exactly brought them to that decision. (We’re) disappointed because Bundee is a big part of the squad, so we're disappointed for him,” Easterby said.
“He's nowhere near a dirty player. He was sanctioned on the day, and we lost him for a large chunk of the game – we were down to 14 men.
“So we're disappointed with lots of different things, but mainly for Bundee because we’re lucky that we have a real good group of players in that midfield, but he's one of those and we'd be disappointed if we don't get to use him
“He was pretty upset about the decision and rightfully so. But until we've seen the report and know exactly how they came to that decision, we'll probably have to wait until we see that before we make any further comment.
"I guess at the moment we have to (plan without him), partly to do with the time it could take (to appeal).
“We like to have as much clarity as possible early in the week and it’s now Tuesday. We obviously had a travel day yesterday so we were a little limited in terms of time on the pitch in training.
“We've been here before, so it’s fine but at the moment we’re having to take the take the course of action that Bundee won't be available.”
The impact of the loss of Aki is lessened by the return to fitness of Robbie Henshaw who will partner Garry Ringrose in the midfield against New Zealand.
“I guess in terms of a decision to select two guys in midfield this week, with Bundee currently out of the equation it means that Robbie coming back to fitness was great timing,” Easterby said.
“Garry and Chris Farrell – neither of those two played so they will be fresh as well. So in that respect we’re really fortunate that the medics and Robbie worked particularly hard to get him back up to speed and him getting through 80 minutes against the Samoans was great to see."
Rugby World Cup 2019
New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster insists that Bundee Aki's absence for Saturday's World Cup quarter-final against Ireland will not change how his side approach the game.