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Rúaidhrí O'Connor: 'Ireland can beat New Zealand without Aki, but ban has damaged chances of World Cup glory'

 

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Ireland's Bundee Aki leaves the field after receiving a red card during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium.

Ireland's Bundee Aki leaves the field after receiving a red card during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium.

PA

Ireland's Bundee Aki leaves the field after receiving a red card during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium.

Ireland can beat New Zealand without Bundee Aki, but their hopes of winning the World Cup just took a major blow with news the centre will miss their remaining games in Japan through suspension.

Unless he appeals successfully, the Connacht centre’s tournament ended with his dangerous tackle on Samoa out-half Ulupano Seuteni in the 30th minute of Saturday’s final pool game.

In his absence, Garry Ringrose will come into the centre, with Robbie Henshaw shifting into the No 12 jersey, against the All Blacks and the Leinster pair won’t weaken things one bit for the quarter-final against the world champions.

Where Aki’s ban could become a problem is if Ireland manage to cause a shock and beat the All Blacks to reach a first semi-final, where they will play the winners of England v Australia on Saturday week.

If they overcome that challenge, they will take on one of South Africa, Japan, France or Wales in the final in three weeks’ time.

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Ireland's Garry Ringrose, pictured scoring Ireland's fifth try in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool A win over Russia in Kobe. Photo: Reuters/Annegret Hilse

Ireland's Garry Ringrose, pictured scoring Ireland's fifth try in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool A win over Russia in Kobe. Photo: Reuters/Annegret Hilse

REUTERS

Ireland's Garry Ringrose, pictured scoring Ireland's fifth try in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool A win over Russia in Kobe. Photo: Reuters/Annegret Hilse

 

Given they are 12 point outsiders to win their last eight game, they won’t be looking too far ahead, but Schmidt has to look at the bigger picture.

This is a squad game and, in Aki, Schmidt has just lost one of the most reliable players on his roster.

If he needs to rotate his team, he’s lost one of his best options.

While other centres have missed games through injury, the 29-year-old has been available for every game since he’s qualified until now, working with a revolving door of partners and producing the goods.

He hasn’t been at his best at this World Cup, but he looks to be in incredible physical condition and there was a sense that he would raise his game for the knock-outs.

Instead, he’ll be watching on from the stands as Henshaw and Ringrose take centre stage and Chris Farrell provides cover.

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Robbie Henshaw of Ireland is tackled by Tusi Pisi of Samoa during the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Samoa at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium in Fukuoka, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Robbie Henshaw of Ireland is tackled by Tusi Pisi of Samoa during the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Samoa at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium in Fukuoka, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Robbie Henshaw of Ireland is tackled by Tusi Pisi of Samoa during the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Samoa at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium in Fukuoka, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

 

Schmidt will have concerns about all three of his midfielders’ injury profiles, with Henshaw just back from his latest spell on the sidelines and Farrell back in training after suffering a concussion against Japan.

He cannot replace Aki and, even if he could, Will Addison is injured leaving Rory Scannell as the next cab off the rank and he left Ireland camp in early July.

Of the Irish backs, Ringrose has been the stalwart through this World Cup playing the full 80 minutes against Scotland, Japan and Russia before sitting out the Samoa match. He also featured in all four warm-up matches.

He lined up alongside Aki in Ireland’s win over New Zealand last year, while Henshaw started the 2016 victory in Chicago and was forced off with a concussion early in the rematch.

So, both have experienced wins over the best team in the world and Schmidt will back them to thrive.

But, in Aki, they’ve lost something of a defensive talisman and one of the players the All Blacks respect most in the Irish set-up.

"First of all, they've got great midfield options,” centre Anton Lienert-Brown, a former team-mate of Aki’s at the Chiefs, said today.

"They can use all four so I don't think they will lose too much.

"But, Bundee definitely does bring something a little bit different, he's got great foot-work and he sort of brings that X-factor in that way.

"But it doesn't matter who they put out there, their midfield is quality."

That is true, but the depth of that quality has lessened significantly as a result of Aki’s reckless tackle and subsequent ban.

*This article was amended after Ireland clarified that Bundee Aki will be able to fully train with the squad for the remainder of the Rugby World Cup

Online Editors