"It's crazy to think Bundee Aki might come straight in and start against Wales"
"It's crazy to think that he might come straight in and start."
Considering that Ireland are heading into the Six Nations with regulars like Johnny Sexton, James Lowe, Tadhg Furlong and Bundee Aki lacking game-time, the mood in this island is optimistic.
Warren Gatland's Wales are up first, in Cardiff, and Ireland have often struggled on their visits to the Welsh capital, in the championship. Still, Andy Farrell has overseen a positive period for his Ireland side and they have a host of key men entering the Six Nations in good form.
Rónan Kelleher's fitness concerns have made the starting hooker conundrum all the simpler - Dan Sheehan backed up by Rob Herring - but who starts alongside Garry Ringrose is not as easy to decipher.
On the latest House of Rugby, [LISTEN from 32:20 below], Greg O'Shea, Lindsay Peat and Jason Hennessy discussed Ireland's big midfield call and some of their bench options for the opener against Wales.
Bundee Aki to Munster?
Conscious of Wales going full throttle against Ireland in the Warren Gatland homecoming, of sorts, Lindsay Peat is marking Johnny Sexton down for a definite start.
Building from there, but the former Ireland prop would feel more confident if Sexton and his tender cheek start off against the Welsh. She and Jason Hennessy are both angling for Stuart McCloskey to start, too.
"Bundee Aki can't even get into the Connacht squad, at the moment," said Peat. 'Now, there's more going on there than we know."
Munster are said to be interested in bringing Aki to Thomond Park if there is, indeed, unrest out West but Connact director of rugby Andy Friend insists such speculation is 'paper talk'.
"Maybe I'm reading too much into it," Hennessy conceded, "but I don't think Friend's comments were too strong - like, 'Oh no, absolutely not. Bundee is committed'. He also said he stood by his decision not to play him in the defeat to Newcastle."
The 32-year-old missed two of Ireland's November Tests after getting suspended for a red card picked up against the Stormers. His last Connacht game was a home defeat to Ulster on December 23.
Bundee Aki or Stuart McCloskey to start?
The Ireland team to face Wales in their 2023 Six Nations opener will be named on Thursday.
While the pack looks settled, barring a Tadhg Furlong set-back, there are backline calls over inside centre, left wing and if Johnny Sexton starts after his recent surgery on an injured cheek.
"Bundee is in Portugal [with the squad]," noted Peat, "but you're kind of looking at centres again and he just hasn't had game time.
"Robbie Henshaw is only coming back from injury and Jamie Osborne deserves to be in the squad, but you take a chance with Bundee because we're away to the Principality Stadium and that game will define our Six Nations. It's crazy to think that Bundee could go straight in and start like. Personally, I would have Stuart McCloskey and I put him in with Garry Ringrose."
Agreeing with the choice of McCloskey over Aki, Hennessy feels the Ulster centre deserves to stay in the Ireland XV after his strong November performances and provincial form.
"If we're going to give him that chance, he deserves to really build on his performances. I think he's a guy who needs consistency and that belief placed in him. What he brings in, as well, is that element of surprise as we all know Warren Gatland will have something up his sleeve."
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