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10th May 2021

Adam Jones makes compelling argument for Aki and Henshaw in Lions XV

Patrick McCarry

Bundee Aki

“I’ll take this one, straight away.”

Bundee Aki may have been rated as worst of all 37 British & Irish Lions squad picks, by Stuart Barnes, but he has a big fan in Adam Jones.

The former Wales and Lions tighthead was left as surprised as most of us, last Thursday, when Warren Gatland selected his Lions squad but can see why Aki made the cut.

Gatland said he came “very close” to waiting to see if Manu Tuilagi would prove his fitness, before ultimately going for the Connacht and Ireland centre. The news raised eyebrows as Aki started only one Six Nations game, against England, and was red-carded with 15 minutes to go.

Jones, who toured with the Lions in 2009 (in South Africa) and 2013, is endorsing Aki for a Lions Text XV role. On House of Rugby, he commented:

“I’d go with Robbie Henshaw at 13 and Bundee Aki at 12.

“My reasoning behind this is, South Africa are going to come with an absolutely gigantic inside centre, whether it’s Damian De Allende or Andre Oosterhuizen, if he gets picked. He’s pretty good.

“So they’ll want to go fire with fire, with South Africa. You go Bundee Aki – big lump, gets over the gain-line, which Gats loves.

“If Ringrose is there, you would go Henshaw as first receiver but Aki being there means you move him back over one. They’ve played 12 and 13 for Ireland, so I feel that is going to be the pairing.”

It was a similar logic used by South African rugby correspondent Craig Ray, when he spoke with House of Rugby Ireland [LISTEN from 26:30 below] about the Lions bold centre selections.

Bundee Aki was one of the first names on Joe Schmidt’s team-sheet in his final years as Ireland head coach. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

Ray, who has been covering rugby in South Africa for two decades, notes the Springboks will go just shy of 600 days before they play their first games [against Georgia] since winning the 2019 World Cup.

“That style of play [from the World Cup] is not going to change a whole lot,” he says.

“The High-veldt will make it slightly faster, for these two Tests on the High-veldt. They’ll be quite high-tempo games, but they’ll bring that tempo to the style they’ll have. They won’t change the style.

“Maybe quicker ruck ball, maybe a few more options running off the rucks. It will be big runners down the flyhalf/inside centre channel. Pieter Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi running onto flat passes. So, someone like Bundee Aki in that channel will be quite crucial.”

World Cup knock-out rugby. That is what Ray feels Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber will be cooking up.

Big guys running hard and looking to dole out lumps and welts. Gatland has plenty of experience, in his coaching gigs with Wales, Ireland and the Lions, to know what to expect from a fired up Springbok side.

Some pundits feel Aki is going to South Africa as a squad player, but do not put it past him to play a key role in the upcoming Test Series.


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