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Joe Schmidt Asked Bundee Aki Did He Want To Play For Ireland Long Ago

Joe Schmidt Asked Bundee Aki Did He Want To Play For Ireland Long Ago
By Maurice Brosnan

Bundee Aki arrived to Connacht in 2014 from New Zealand. He had previously worked as a bank teller before joining Counties Manukau. After playing a major role in Manukau's promotion run, Aki joined the Chiefs for a year.

When he departed for Ireland, it disappointed many All-Blacks who were aware of the talent they were losing.

Last year Aki made his debut for Ireland in highly contentious circumstances. He was the latest project player to feature for Joe Schmidt's side. Aki had previously admitted it was unfair for him to say he is 'Irish' and that he was unsure which nation he would represent internationally. This was jumped upon as evidence of the laxness surrounding the residency rule.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Aki has clarified these comments.

Yeah, I think people did get the wrong end of the stick with that. What I meant was that I didn't want to disrespect the boys who grew up here and always dreamt of playing for Ireland. I didn't want to disrespect them by coming in and saying, ‘Pick me!' Because you're a foreigner, people can expect you to play well and maybe they look closer at you than guys who are from Ireland.

I think people took it wrong but that's what I meant. Ireland has welcomed me with open arms and I feel just as privileged to wear that jersey as the players who wore it before me. I'm relaxed about it because it was a long road to get where I am now.

Aki also revealed he was contacted by Joe Schmidt very early in his Connacht career, with the Irish boss wondering whether Aki had any interest in togging out for the Irish side back in 2015.

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A year and a half after I got here, Joe (Schmidt) spoke to me. I like to keep things to myself, to keep my goals to myself or within the family, not to share stuff. Joe did ask me if I was keen to play for Ireland and I said yes. He said you've just got make sure you do the hard work. I said if I'm good enough, you'll pick me.

It is telling that the forward-thinking Schmidt was keeping tabs on a player 18 months before he was available. The criticism of Aki's inclusion was inevitable yet he transitioned into the team seamlessly and looks set to rekindle his partnership with Robbie Henshaw for the upcoming Six Nations.

Even his most ardent critics would admit the issue is with the system and not the individual. Aki is set to be one of the last benefactors of this rule as World Rugby moved to extend the residency rule to five years.

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You can read the full interview here.

SEE ALSO: Report: This Summer Will Be Michael Lyster's Last As Face Of RTÉ's GAA Coverage

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