Bundee Aki says Robbie Henshaw will be huge loss for Ireland but backs one man to step up
Bundee Aki has admitted Robbie Henshaw will prove "a big loss" if ruled out of Ireland's NatWest 6 Nations title charge.
British and Irish Lions centre Henshaw suffered a suspected dislocated shoulder in Ireland's 56-19 win over Italy in Dublin on Saturday.
The 24-year-old suffered the blow on grounding the ball for his second score, requiring oxygen on the field before departing with his right arm in a sling.
Head coach Joe Schmidt has so far refused to rule out Henshaw even from the February 24 clash with Wales in Dublin, but the likelihood is that the Leinster star could miss the rest of the tournament.
"If he's not there for the next couple of weeks it would be a big loss, he's a big leader in the backline," said centre partner Aki of Henshaw.
"But whoever steps up I'm sure will do a great job.
"Keith Earls did really well when he stepped in at 13, he did amazingly to get back and pull off that cover tackle at the end.
"I felt really comfortable with him in there, just the same as I have when I've had Robbie outside and Johnny Sexton on the inside too.
"When you've got players of that calibre there, you can only feed off that experience and enthusiasm.
"Keith's a world-class player, with the experience and ability he has. So I'm sure he would go really well if he stepped in again to face Wales."
Ireland racked up eight tries in their facile win over Italy, even though Conor O'Shea's side sneaked three late scores to close the sizeable gap.
Schmidt's men will now host Wales and Scotland, before taking on England at Twickenham in a potential title-decider.
Leinster star Garry Ringrose could yet be back from ankle trouble just in time to slot in for Henshaw in Ireland's clash with Wales, while Munster's Chris Farrell could also partner Aki against Warren Gatland's men.
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Aki has warned Ireland to step up their game once more for the Wales challenge, admitting Schmidt's side must sharpen up behind the scrum.
"Wales are a world-class team with world-class players, we've got to look forward to next week to refresh minds and bodies, and get ready for the challenge," said Aki.
"I think we identified how much line speed Italy brought into this game, and we made sure we adjusted ourselves.
"But a few of those balls that went to ground were my fault. The good thing though, is you've just got to keep learning, keep improving as the weeks go by.
"We're very happy with the result but we've got a lot to work on next week; our execution, myself included, simple things, holding onto the ball and building phases."
Aki bagged his first Test try on his fourth cap as Ireland overwhelmed the Italians - but insisted that that international first does not cement his rise in Schmidt's ranks.
Asked if his try represents another step forward in his Test career, Aki said: "No, no, not at all. A try is just a bonus really. You can't take anything for granted.
"So you've got to keep going, and make sure you're putting your hand up to fight for that spot again.
"You're never stamped into a team. But I'm definitely enjoying it.
"To get my first try for this team was something special. But you have to park that pretty quickly and keep focused."