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Focused Aki is hoping family affair will be just the ticket

 

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

It's not quite a homecoming for Bundee Aki, but it's the next best thing.

He grew up across the Tasman Sea in Auckland, but a large contingent of his aunts, uncles and cousins call Australia home and he will have a big support behind him at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.

While he will be delighted to see them all, he confesses that as his team-mates have been enjoying the delights of the Gold Coast this week, he has been involved in a scramble for tickets.

Having sourced 15 himself, he's decided the best thing now is to let them at it because he has enough on his plate concentrating on the task at hand.

"I've got a few family here in Brizzy and a whole lot of them over in Melbourne and Sydney, they live here. My mum's family are in Melbourne and all of my dad's side are over in Sydney. So it's about trying to keep my head in the game and trying to catch up with them at the appropriate time," he explained.

"Well, this Brizzy game, I'm looking to get around 15 tickets already. The Melbourne one is a bit of a struggle, there's 25 people there that are already asking me for tickets, and then Sydney - all my dad's family, which is going to be a lot.

"Uncles and aunties and cousins, it is amazing but it's pretty stressful as well. I just try and leave it to my partner to try and sort out. She can get the tickets for them if she has to, I'll just try and focus on what I need to do.

"They know I've got a bit of work to do before I try and catch up with them.

"I'm struggling! I am struggling to get everybody in there. They're well aware that I only get a few tickets but they're able to get some tickets for themselves if they have to!

"It's always good to see them supporting me at the stadium."

Although it is the end of a long, unforgettable season, the teak-tough centre arrives in Australia fresh from a month off.

Connacht's season may have been a disappointment, but one plus for Joe Schmidt is that the hard-working midfielder could rest and recover.

He was supposed to captain the Barbarians in order to get game time, but an ankle issue put paid to that opportunity and, while he regrets not being able to pull on the famous shirt in Twickenham, he is ready to hit the ground running on Saturday.

"I'm feeling good," he said. "It is the end of the season. It's great to be back together with the lads and enjoying each other's company and see how well we can gel again and bounce from the success that we've had so far.

"It's going to be tough, it's the end of our season and mid-season for these guys, so it's going to be tough but hopefully we can try and do the best we can.

"It was disappointing (to miss the Baa-Baas), but my first priority is being able to play well for Connacht and being able to put up my hand up for the Irish team. There was a bit of a niggle, I got an injury through training and didn't pass the test to try and go through to the Baa-Baas.

"It was my ankle, so one of those things, if it wasn't the ankle I probably would have pushed on and played, but you need your ankle to run around so I needed to rest. It's all good now, I'm ready to go."

Given how quickly he took to international rugby, it is easy to forget that this was Aki's first taste of life at Test level.

He is unbeaten in his seven Tests so far and has a Six Nations Grand Slam in his back pocket. It's been quite a year.

"I didn't realise how big it is to win a Grand Slam and how hard it is to win one," he said.

"I realised in that room when we spoke at the Captain's Run that only two of the lads had won the Grand Slam, Rory Best and Rob Kearney.

"That was a bit of a surprise for me, knowing that all the lads that I was standing next to, who have been in the squad for quite a while, hadn't won a Grand Slam.

"To do it with them for the first time is something that I will cherish forever, it's one of those things that you want to keep going; striving to get more and more trophies to win together as a team.

"It's about bonding together as a group, I think we're bonding really well at the moment.

"You cherish the moments and the success that you've had, but then also being able to stay on the ground, trying to be better."

Belfast Telegraph

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