Earlier today Joe Schmidt announced his squad for the November internationals against South Africa, Fiji, and Argentina. The headlines centred around the exclusion of France-bound Simon Zebo, but also of interest was the inclusion of Connacht’s Bundee Aki.
Aki arrived to Galway in the summer of 2014 and qualifies under the residency rule. Thus, the debate that surrounded the legitimacy of Munster’s CJ Stander and Ulster’s Jared Payne will now encompass Aki.
Former Ireland lock Neil Francis has had his say, writing in his column for the Independent today that the move is “to the detriment of our school, club, academy and provincial systems.”
It is wrong, irrespective of how good he is, that an Irishman born and bred here should sit on the sideline while somebody who has no connection whatsoever with this country, other than drawing a large wage, takes his place.
Francis derided the IRFU’s project player scheme as a project that sees the “IRFU hand out jerseys which represent our island to well-paid tourists.”
Many have argued that Stander’s inclusion was merited due to his seeming willingness to embrace Irish culture, having famously learned the words to Amhrán na bhFiann after his inclusion in the squad last year.
But Francis feels these gestures are not genuine:
If the Llanelli Scarlets came in with an offer £75k more than Munster and Connacht did for CJ Stander or Aki, the pair of them could be lining out for Wales and learning the lines of 'Bread of Heaven'.
'I really feel at home in West Wales, the people are great rugby people and I feel Welsh' - oh the interchangeability of it all.
The full piece is certainly worth checking out, and can be done so here:
Neil Francis: Bundee Aki's probable selection in Joe Schmidt's squad reflects integrity deficit in international game