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Bundee Aki’s ability to consistently win collisions was priceless in Ireland’s victory over Wales

The Connacht man’s all-action performance was a continuation of his string of superb displays at the World Cup

Bundee Aki proclaimed his love for Ireland in a prematch television interview. The Irish supporters at the Aviva Stadium reciprocated on 78 minutes on Saturday when he was announced as man-of-the-match, inspiring one of the loudest roars of the afternoon, as the well of affection bubbled to the surface.

During that interview the New Zealand-born centre was asked to describe his relationship with his adopted country in one word.

He responded: “I would say, ‘love’. I love playing for Ireland, I love the people in Ireland. They’ve given nothing but love. I can only show it back with the way I play and the way I represent the country.”

He honours that commitment, and then some.


Speaking of expression, it was easy to figure out who Aki has been fraternising with in the Ireland camp based on his post-match, sideline chat with RTÉ’s Clare McNamara, as he collected his trinket.

Three ‘sure looks’, and a couple of ‘looks’ to preface answers were a giveaway, especially when the next player to the microphone, Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony, began an answer with ‘well look,’ en route to a few ‘looks’. Who knows, there might be more to this than happenstance.

On the pitch Aki was brilliant, pinballing Welsh tacklers with his power through contact, exemplary in his tackle technique, squat and unmoving in effecting a couple of penalty turnovers at the breakdown. But it was the nuances of his game that did so much to provide a framework to Ireland’s misshapen attack early in the match.

At a time when Andy Farrell’s side were utterly dominant, Ireland put the ball through many hands, but they didn’t make the work lighter, if anything it was touches for touches’ sake without committing defenders.

The frontal assault was more successful but when Ireland went out the back, the orientation was largely lateral than forward, players in condensed clusters, with the exception of one, occasionally Aki, but more often wings James Lowe and Calvin Nash, hugging the touchline.

It simplified matters for Wales in defensive terms – they still deserve credit for their organisation and threat identification – as they were rarely stretched, and even when Ireland did get the ball wide, it was by virtue of a long, looping pass, its arrival simultaneous or a nanosecond before three red jerseys.

In that environment Aki’s ability to consistently win the collisions, to straighten the Irish attack, to preserve space and to provide his pack with a positive target in the Welsh backfield, was priceless.

Wales wing Josh Adams was the first to learn the folly of getting his head in the wrong place when confronting the Irish centre, but he was far from alone. Aki, a runaway green-shirted caboose, terrorised Nick Tompkins, the Welsh centre had to resort to hitching a ride on his opponent’s torso several times, while carried several metres backwards and forced to seek assistance.

The Irish centre meted out that sort of punishment to all comers, his 15 carries for 115 metres and three line-breaks, should be accompanied by the notation that these weren’t gobbled up unopposed, rather in exposing the guts of the Welsh defence in a very direct manner. What he does beautifully in those circumstances is that his footwork allows him to dictate where and how the collision takes place.

He was equally forthright in defence with nine tackles; the one on George North should hang in the National Gallery, picture perfect in technique, a low, ankle grabber, that put to ground the charging Lions and Wales centre. It was, to all intents and purposes, a try saver.

There were other moments, winning a penalty at a breakdown on three minutes as he made the most of Josh van der Flier’s brilliant tackle on the excellent Cameron Winnett, by clamping onto the ball and surviving a brief buffeting.

Aki was unlucky, once, or twice, as he bashed through the initial contact, and poised to escape was lassoed from behind or, equally blindsided, by a flailing arm dislodge the ball. He had a try disallowed on 58 minutes when Robbie Henshaw was adjudged to have knocked on in the build-up.

That moment encapsulated the essence of his performance, as he barged through Tompkins and North to dot down under the posts. It would have been a fitting reward.

He shrugged off the disappointment and it was his carry that was pivotal to Ciarán Frawley’s try, taking out Sam Costellow and Tompkins while providing pristine ball presentation.

In some respects, Aki’s performance was a continuation of the string of superb displays at the World Cup in France last year that were recognised, fittingly, by being shortlisted for World Player of the Year. The Ireland 12 jersey belongs to the Connacht centre, has done for a while, and that will remain the case if he continues in the same vein.