Rugby ‘Leader’ Bundee Aki’s journey comes full circle as he faces Samoa, the land of his mother and father

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Rugby Bundee Aki during Ireland Rugby squad training at Shirouzuoike Park in Fukuoka, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki during Ireland Rugby squad training at Shirouzuoike Park in Fukuoka, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Born in Auckland to Samoan parents, Samoa has always been part of Bundee Aki’s identity and the centre will come full circle when he lines up against the Siva Tau war dance before taking on his ‘brothers’ Saturday.

Recruited by Connacht and the IRFU in 2014 as a potential Ireland international, the 29-year-old has become a leading player for his adopted nation, while also a lightning rod for critics of the three-year residency law.

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Perhaps as a result, Aki has been reluctant to delve into questions over his heritage and identity; preferring to let his abrasive play do the talking.

Ultra-committed, he is a remarkably durable member of Joe Schmidt’s set-up. Only Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy (23 each) have featured more than Aki’s 22 caps in the 27 he’s been available for.

He’s had a revolving door of centre partners, but he has always stepped up to the plate even if his last outing against Russia wasn’t his best by his own admission.

“From a coach’s point of view, his resilience and ability to be able to play every week,” assistant coach Richie Murphy said today of Aki’s contribution.

“We’ve had a situation where himself, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell have been fighting it out for those positions, but Bundee is the one probably guy who has been available most of the time.

“It’s been fantastic to have him, he’s come into the group and fitted in really well.

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“He loves living down in Galway, he’s a big part of the community down there but within the group he’s taken a big stride on this year and is getting into leadership roles.

“Driving the team both on and off the pitch.”

Aki wasn’t put up for media today after being named, but before the Russia game he was asked about the prospect of taking on Samoa.

And he said will fall back on his experience of playing against the All Blacks in 2018 as he prepares for the match.

“That would be a proud moment, if I do get to that stage,” he said.

“But I would treat it exactly the same as the way I focused on playing against New Zealand as well.

“I’ve just got to try and focus on what I can do best for the team first, and we’ll see how we go this week and hopefully I can help the team put in a good performance.”

On Wednesday night, Aki dined with members of the Samoan squad including his close frien

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