Bundee Aki backs "unbelievable" James Lowe to prove Test calibre 2 months ago

Bundee Aki backs "unbelievable" James Lowe to prove Test calibre

"The camera can be very deceiving these days, can't it? You've got the lighting right, the angle right. I obviously got the lighting and the angle right at that moment!"

Bundee Aki is looking primed and ready to roll as he chats with us ahead of the return to rugby.

Aki, like his Ireland [and former Connacht] teammate Robbie Henshaw, is helping to promote the new Ireland home and alternate Canterbury jerseys and he is filling out the new kit nicely.

"I had nothing else to do," he reasons. "I got some gym gear from Core Sports, Elverys and Connacht as well so I had nothing else to do except gym [work] and weights. I think everybody else came in good nick as well."

There was no return to New Zealand for Aki when the Covid-19 pandemic forced Ireland into strict restrictions on travel and movement. He is well used to keep in touch with family back home so had the Face-time and Zoom jumps on most of it.

When it came to his role, in the midst of the lockdown and with the rugby season paused, the centre was content to spend more time with his family, here, and do his part. "I'm a big sports person and I love playing sport," he says, "That's part of my life.

"At the end of the day, when it comes down to something like the pandemic, people's health has to come first. We're talking about people's lives here. There might be a family member that you don't have time with or hear from or spend time with them because of Covid.

"For me personally, if I was in that situation I'd find that my family would be a lot more important than being worried about playing rugby. That's the point really, that people's health does come first. And when you think about it, sport will always be there. It'll be a bit weird coming back into it but health and safety of people's lives is a lot more important than sport."

Bundee Aki celebrates a try by Connacht teammate Tom McCartney during a Heineken Champions Cup match in November 2019. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

When Aki sits down for his online chat, we are still 10 days shy of rugby's restart - happening on August 22 and 23 - and he is not aware of Connacht's finalised plans for an anti-racism stance, or message, for the Ulster match. Asked if he has any personal preferences, he states that he would prefer not to speak on the topic.

He does speak about fellow Kiwi James Lowe, and in warm terms. The pair were at Waikato Chiefs before and may be reunited in that new Ireland jersey when the Test window reopens in late October. Lowe will be eligible to follow in Aki's footsteps - after satisfying World Rugby's outgoing 3-year residency rules - and play for Ireland.

When it is pointed out to Aki that there appears to be less of a fuss about Lowe representing Ireland, than, say, himself or Jared Payne, he says he has not paid much attention to the coverage or social media commentary.

"They're very good to play international rugby and if they feel like they deserve to play international footy and if they're playing good footy, then I'll 100% back them as a player.

"James Lowe, I played with him at the Chiefs and he's an unbelievable player. He's obviously done really well with Leinster. I think he's international calibre as well. I have no doubt that if he keeps playing the way he is and if he gets named in the squad or if anybody else gets named in the squad, fair play to him.

"I said before as well, it's people's opinions really. What opinions really matters the most is how you take it and people around you... You just got to make sure that [it is] the coach's opinion that matters, the team and the guys around you that matters the most. Just take it as it is. I certainly just try to put it away and just be like, 'That's people's opinions'."

Since he has arrived in Galway, Aki has preferred to do his talking on the pitch and leave people to their opinions. On Sunday, at the Aviva Stadium, he can fully get back to what he thrives at doing.

Canterbury, the official kit partner to Irish Rugby, has revealed the new Ireland Home and Alternate jerseys that will be worn throughout the 2020/21 season. It is a new era for Irish Rugby, and the latest technology is at the heart of the new Home and Alternate Test jerseys which are on sale now from Elverys.ie, in-store and on Canterbury.com.