Gerry Thornley: Extending Bundee Aki’s contract is good business from IRFU

Centre is playing some of the best rugby of his life and was nominated for World Player of the Year

Rewind to last January, and he wasn’t even being picked in the Connacht team but fast forward 10 months and at 33 years of age Bundee Aki is playing the best rugby of his life.

This remarkable rejuvenation in Aki’s form had led to him being shortlisted for the World Player of the Year award which is being announced on Sunday night. Hence, not only is the new one-year extension to his central contract with the IRFU and Connacht to 2025 utterly deserved, it represents very good business by the Union and the province.

Aki’s tally of 81 carries is unlikely to be matched at this Rugby World Cup, with his nearest challengers Beauden Barrett and Ardie Savea both on 60. He sits joint third on the tournament’s list of leading try scorers with five and he also has the joint third highest tally of clean breaks with 10.

So, the centre who began the calendar year out of favour with his coaches at Connacht, has been nominated for World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year along with the Antoine Dupont, Eben Etzebeth and Ardie Savea.


Rewind further, of course, to 2011 and at the age of 20 he was a bank teller when one of his customers, Tana Umaga, persuaded Aki to come and play for him at Counties Manakau.

While blessed with quick feet, acceleration and power, from then on one of the most striking features of Aki’s career is how competitive he is and how he consistently proved to be a winner.

In his three seasons with Counties they earned promotion to the Premiership Division by winning the Championship and won the Ranfurly Shield for the first time in their history. His form earned him a two-year deal with the Chiefs as he helped them retain their Super Rugby title in 2013 before he joined Connacht ahead of the 2014-15 season.

Aki was an integral part of Connacht’s breakthrough Pro12 triumph in 2015-16, when he was voted the competition’s Player of the Season. Since making his Test debut against South Africa in November 2017, Aki has been an integral part of the Grand Slams of 2018 and 2023 – playing all 10 games – and having started both of the Aviva Stadium wins over the All Blacks in 2018 and 2020, he was also an ever-present in the historic series win in New Zealand last year, when starting the decisive final Test.

No matter way you look at it, Aki is a winner, and in 52 Ireland appearances to date he has been on the winning side 42 times, while scoring 15 tries (six of them is his six games this season).

He has played 127 times for Connacht and in 2021 he became the fourth player from Connacht to play for the British & Irish Lions.

Despite offers from abroad, Aki has stayed loyal to Connacht, and in extending his stay with the province to at least 11 seasons will continue to remain a hugely popular figure with their fan base and an inspirational figure to young players in the west.

It’s been some career, and he’s not done yet.