Rugby Rúaidhrí O’Connor: ‘Ireland can beat New Zealand without Aki, but ban has damaged chances of World Cup glory’

Rugby These constituents are smart.


Rugby Ireland's Bundee Aki leaves the field after receiving a red card during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium.
Ireland’s Bundee Aki leaves the field after receiving a red card during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium.

Ireland can beat New Zealand without Bundee Aki, but their hopes of winning the World Cup just took a major blow with news the centre will miss their remaining games in Japan through suspension.

Unless he appeals successfully, the Connacht centre’s tournament ended with his dangerous tackle on Samoa out-half Ulupano Seuteni in the 30th minute of Saturday’s final pool game.

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In his absence, Garry Ringrose will come into the centre, with Robbie Henshaw shifting into the No 12 jersey, against the All Blacks and the Leinster pair won’t weaken things one bit for the quarter-final against the world champions.

Where Aki’s ban could become a problem is if Ireland manage to cause a shock and beat the All Blacks to reach a first semi-final, where they will play the winners of England v Australia on Saturday week.

If they overcome that challenge, they will take on one of South Africa, Japan, France or Wales in the final in three weeks’ time.

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Ireland’s Garry Ringrose scores their fifth try in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool A win over Russia in Kobe. Photo: Reuters/Annegret Hilse

Given they are 12 point outsiders to win their last eight game, they won’t be looking too far ahead, but Schmidt has to look at the bigger picture.

This is a squad game and, in Aki, Schmidt has just lost one of the most reliable players on his roster.

If he needs to rotate his team, he’s lost one of his best options.

While other centres have missed games through injury, the 29-year-old has been available for every game since he’s qualified until now, working with a revolving door of partners and producing the goods.

He hasn’t been at his best at

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