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21st Jun 2021

Bundee Aki on what was going through his head after England red card

Patrick McCarry

Bundee Aki

“Obviously the red card was unfortunate.”

Bundee Aki has faced adversity in his rugby career. It is not foreign to him. He has suffered enough blows to make him truly cherish the highs.

Back in March, he found himself drafted into the Ireland midfield for a game against England that had nothing at stake, but meant everything to those lining out that day.

With Garry Ringrose ruled out of the final Six Nations game, Andy Farrell turned to Aki. The Connacht centre had been surplus to matchday requirements for the first four games, but now he was needed.

For 63 minutes, he fully justified the recall. Alongside the excellent Robbie Henshaw, Aki was dialled in and marshalled the Irish backline while sticking his tackles, making hard carries and tearing into rucks. Just after 63 minutes, he thought he had just made another positive impact.

Billy Vunipola was on the charge, trying to punch into the Irish 22 for a shell-shocked England side. Aki braced himself and stopped Vunipola in his tracks. The only problem was, his shoulder connected with the chin of Vunipola and he was red-carded:

Aki would have been forgiven for questioning if his future international prospects would be irreparably damaged. It was his second red card in nine Test outings and he had become the first ever Ireland player to be sent off on two occasions.

Whatever he was thinking, making the 2021 British & Irish Lions squad would have been far, far from his mind. Despite the red card, and subsequent ban, Aki ended up making the cut for Warren Gatland’s 37-man Lions squad.

Up for his first press briefing as a Lion, Aki spoke about that sending off and how he is trying to learn from recent mistakes.

“The red card was unfortunate. When it happened, I was disappointed about it but it’s part of rugby. Obviously, they’re putting in those safer rules for people’s safety which is very good.

“As a player you’ve just got to adapt and learn from it. I was just happy that we won the game and that we got over the line. I didn’t think about anything else apart from that.”

“There is a fine line,” he added. “You’ve just got to make sure you keep working week-in, week out. I do it all the time. Obviously I came on the short end of the straw that time but it’s a constant work-on, it’s a constant thing that has to be done every week. It’s all marginal and I’ve just got to make sure it’s the right marginals and not the wrong end of it.”

Part of what makes Aki a talisman for every team he lines out for is the full-blooded nature of his defence, and attack.

While he will be working on his tackle technique, and when to line up opposition ball-carriers, he is conscious that controlled aggression – as much as it seems like a misnomer – is vital to his make-up.

“Obviously there is safety within the game and I’ve just got to make sure that I put my physicality and aggression in a different kind of way, making sure it’s more towards the safety side of things more than anything else.”

*A very special British & Irish House of Rugby show – fronted by Sean O’Brien and Alex Goode – will start on June 25 and run for the duration of the Lions Tour. Follow and subscribe to it HERE

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