'It's cool to mix & match' - Aki loving centre stage

Updated / Thursday, 8 Mar 2018 20:49

Bundee Aki: 'Garry brings a different aspect to his game. He's slotted in fairy easily. He's been here before.'

By Anthony Pyne

Ireland's No 13 shirt may have something of a curse on it this spring; but the ever-present Bundee Aki has been a solid midfield presence, pumping energy and aggression through the veins of the side and helping to keep the Grand Slam dream alive.

Garry Ringrose will become Aki's third partner in four games when they line out against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday.

Robbie Henshaw (shoulder) and Chris Farrell (cruciate) both had their tournaments cruelly cut short having shone alongside the Connacht man in the wins over France, Italy and Wales.

Luck has hardly been on Ringrose's side either; the Leinster 23-year-old limped out of the Pro14 clash against Ulster back in January and subsequently required ankle surgery.

It looked like Ringrose's Six Nations hopes were faint, but fate has intervened. He returns with minimal game time under his belt - he played in Leinster's annihilation of the Southern Kings a fortnight ago - but with a golden opportunity to nail down that outside centre slot for a thrilling shot at the Slam. 

For Aki, having another new man by his shoulder is not an issue. Quite the opposite.

"It's cool to mix and match with the boys around you," he said at the Irish training base in Carton House on Thursday.

"You're always learning. Garry brings a different aspect to his game. He's slotted in fairy easily. He's been here before. He knows what it takes to play an international game.

"I'm just here to feed off him. He's slotted in really well this week, he's trained really well and he looks in good shape. 

"I know I need to take my own responsibility on how I need to play. Garry, like I said, he's been here before and he's got more experience than I have. I'm just feeding off whatever he has, the way he plays, and with likes of Johnny, (Conor) Murray... they don't put all the pressure on ourselves.

"There's a wide spread of players around us that know how to do their own jobs."

No big deal then for the New Zealand-born 27-year-old who continues to take Test rugby completely in his stride.

Aki made a blockbusting debut in the Autumn International defeat of the Springboks last November and he hasn't looked back.

"I think I'm pretty lucky to be honest," the 27-year-old said.

"To play every single game so far is a blessing. The guys who had their injuries, they've been unlucky. I'm just blessed to be here.

"I always speak to my family (before games). They're always making sure I'm feeling fine and feeling happy, making sure my head's on the game.

"I feel at home in the squad; they've made me feel at home. Just coming from where I come from to where I am now is a big thing.

"When you've got the likes of Conor, Johnny, Rob Kearney at the back, Joe - a world-class coach - as well as Andy Farrell, what can you complain about?"

Follow Ireland v Scotland on Saturday (KO 2.15pm) via the live blog on RTÉ.ie/Sport and the News Now App, or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1, with commentary from Michael Corcoran and Donal Lenihan.