Bundee Aki set for new midfield partner against Wales
With Garry Ringrose expected to miss the next two games, the Connacht centre will be needed more than ever.
Bundee Aki was tackling like a man possessed in the closing stages of Ireland's victory over Scotland. Ireland were indebted to the doggedness of players like Aki and CJ Stander, but the Scots were not best pleased with how they were repelled. They found agreement from a former England international.
Just when you think you've settled on a centre combination...
Andy Farrell went into his first game as Ireland head coach with a midfield combination of Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose. Given the number of injuries that disrupt the planning of coaches, the Aki-Ringrose combo is Ireland's most settled. The duo have been paired in midfield together more times than any other in the past five years of Test rugby.
Both men had decent opening 40 minutes against the Scots but Ringrose did not appear for the second half. The Leinster centre has broken his thumb and will most likely miss the upcoming Guinness Six Nations games against Wales and England. There is a chance, depending on the severity of the injury, that Ringrose could miss the rest of the championship.
Ireland finished out with Aki at inside centre and Robbie Henshaw alongside him. Both men are favourites to start at 12 and 13 against Wales, next week, but the likes of Stuart McCloskey and Chris Farrell will be pushing for inclusion in Farrell's next XV.
Aki showed some spark in attack but, not for the first time, his biggest contributions came in defence. The Auckland native made 12 carries for 40 metres with one clean break while he stuck 10 of his 13 tackle attempts. He also waded into the breakdown to help disrupt a series of Scottish attacks in Ireland's 22.
Aki's over-eagerness to repel the Scots was watched closely by ITV pundit, and former England star, Ben Kay. He felt match referee Mathieu Raynal was far too lenient on an "offside" Aki:
Great Irish commitment but reckon the Scots will be fuming about some of decision making, ref actually goes and tells Bundee here to get onside and then completely ignores the fact he does the opposite? pic.twitter.com/xO8QdqU9IZ
— Ben Kay (@BenKay5) February 1, 2020
The screengrabs that Kay got do show Aki braced for action with his hand placed well over the Irish tryline:
This taking of liberties was noted by Scotland boss Gregor Townsend after his side's 19-12 defeat. He commented:
"We just didn't get the luck at the breakdown, but also credit goes to Ireland. They were fast in there and disrupted our ball close to their tryline.
"It was really frustrating with their turnover, right at the end of the game, because I was watching phase after phase and it didn't look like many of their players were behind the tryline when that was the offside line."
With Bundee Aki set to start again next weekend, we can imagine Wales boss Wayne Pivac will be mentioning these clips to the match officials for the upcoming game.
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Barry Murphy and Andrew Trimble are joined by Jerry Flannery, Eddie O'Sullivan and Ali Miller in Reardens, Cork as House of Rugby sets its sights on the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.