'Bundee would've been Player of the Year if Ireland got through the quarter finals'
"He deserves his time in the spotlight."
Ardie Savea was dealt a harsh card in the 2022 World Rugby awards, but the powers (and pundits) that be made up for it, this year. Bundee Aki ended up pushing the All Blacks star closest for the top prize.
The night after South Africa beat New Zealand in a tense World Cup final, Ardie Savea picked up the notable consolation prize of being crowned World Rugby Player of the Year. Antoine Dupont and Eben Etzebeth were also nominated, but the Kiwi faced the toughest competition from a man that was on course for the accolade until his team were beaten by New Zealand.
Aki was one of five Irish inclusions in the World Rugby Dream Team of the Year, but there is a sense that he could have taken the top individual prize had Ireland made tournament history by reaching the semi-finals.
After Ireland lost their last eight match to the All Blacks, many of the opposition players went straight to the former Chiefs star to console him. The ABs knew how tough Ireland would be to defeat, and Aki put in another immense performance against them, on the night.
He won't get it now, as that's the way it is going to crumble, but Bundee Aki was on World Player of the Year form there
5 incredible games on the bounce, and bouncing lads. Immense again, tonight
— Pat McCarry (@patmccarry) October 14, 2023
Praise for Bundee Aki's best ever Test year
It is important to note that Bundee Aki as a Test match demon and destroyer of world-class teams is just how we look sat him now. Back in 2022, the Connacht centre started all of Ireland's Six Nations games but was only on the bench for the first two Tests of the series against New Zealand.
Aki started the Third Test win over the ABs but then picked up a red card and a long suspension, on Connacht duty, when he argued the call during and after the match. He missed the first two November Tests and came off the bench for the narrow win over the Wallabies, scoring a key try in that one. Perhaps still needing to convince Andy Farrell he was the man for the 12 jersey, he was No.23 for the 2023 Six Nations wins over Wales and France, before playing outside centre against Italy.
Aki was excellent in attack but made a couple of defensive slips in that win over Italy and was unhappy with himself after the game. Farrell was liking what he saw on the pitch and in training. Aki started at inside centre for the wins over Scotland and England as the Grand Slam was clinched. He has not looked back since.
He started and scored a try in his only World Cup warm-up game against England them proceeded to blitz it at the World Cup. With each and every game he played, the 33-year-old finished with a heap of plaudits, scores, try assists and stats. It did feel like he was on the cusp of something special and he was very impactful in all five starts.
The Player of the Year take is something that Crusaders player Bryn Hall spoke of on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. The former Maori All Blacks star said Ardie Savea was a deserving winner of the World Rugby award, but he threw out an interesting 'What if?'
"Eben Etzebeth and Bundee Aki were the two other guys that I thought [could win it]. If Bundee Aki gets through that quarter final stage, I think he's probably World Rugby Player of the Year, based around his performances at the World Cup and the transformation he's had over the last 12 months.
"Look at the tour to New Zealand, when he wasn't starting and was struggling to get game-time and get where he is now. Arguably, you could say he's the best midfielder in the world."
The full awards chat in that Kiwi show is from 39:00 (below):
On House of Rugby, meanwhile, no awards were being handed out as northern hemisphere rugby is straight back into their club competitions.
The latest episode, which features former Munster and Ireland centre James Downey, has some chat about Connacht's great start to the season, plugging back Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen and Finlay Bealham, and the players that have so far shined in the URC for Pete Wilkins.
Also discussed are the Munster locks Edwin Edogbo and Thomas Ahern, a positive outing for Jamie Osborne and Harry Byrne, and if Ulster and get back on track by beating Munster, on their new pitch, at home.
LINDSAY PEAT & ALISON MILLER ON HOUSE OF RUGBY
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