Kieran Marmion has warned New Zealand that targeting compatriot and Ireland centre Bundee Aki could backfire.
The All Blacks have ratcheted up tensions with Ireland ahead of Saturday’s compelling autumn Test in Dublin, by highlighting a number of elements within Joe Schmidt’s set-up.
Assistant coach Ian Foster first claimed Johnny Sexton “seems to give the referees a bit of advice”, then joked New Zealand-born Aki “looks like an Irish man now”.
Ireland scrum-half Marmion leaped to the defence of his Connacht team-mate Aki, and insisted New Zealand could pay if they try to wind up the former Waikato Chiefs centre.
“It won’t bother him too much, it will probably just fire him up a bit more,” said Marmion, of Aki.
“We expect Bundee to go straight into them, he won’t hold back. He will relish the challenge, it will be a pretty good spectacle to watch to be honest.”
Born and raised in Auckland, Aki was nearly lost to rugby when he quit in his late teens to work in a bank and provide for his young family.
Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga coaxed him back into the sport at Counties Manukau, before Aki excelled in Super Rugby with the Chiefs.
The bullocking centre has seized his Test chance with Ireland after moving to Connacht and qualifying on residency though, and will win his 12th cap this weekend.
Ireland boss Schmidt pointed out New Zealand have selected plenty of overseas-born players over the years when discussing the issue of Aki facing the country of his birth, and Marmion then followed suit.
“I shared a room with Bundee last week, he chatted quite a bit to me about this game, and he can’t wait to get out there and have a shot at these guys,” said Marmion.
“I am sure he will know he needs to stay calm and not be stupid. I am sure he is smart enough to that, as well.
“They will come looking for him but he has played enough rugby and has enough experience to know not to do anything stupid. He is a tough lad so he will get on with it.”