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Parents ensure I still have fire in belly: Aki

By David Kelly

Even now, though he is 18,000km away in another hemisphere, Bundee Aki cannot escape the teachings of the omnipotent Hercules.

And yet he warms to every syllable, smiling as the advice from the most learned one crosses oceans and mountains and yet loses nothing in intimacy.

His father - owner of that wondrously fabled name - has always done so. His son has not always been endeared to it.

There was a time as a kid when his father would turn up and form a cajoling chorus of eager enthusiasm on the sidelines.

"Here comes your cheerleader, Bundee!" they would gently mock as he would weakly smile.

Now he is an international rugby player many, many miles from home, but home still visits him when his father beseeches him with his own, personal post-match assessment.

"I get a call every Monday after the games from the old man and mum trying to tweak my game," smiled the adopted Irishman. "(They're) just making sure that I'm doing everything right, and in the game last week my handling skills weren't great so he gave me an earful and making sure I'll do it right next time."

After the adrenaline snails to a halt and the heartbeat returns to normal, contact such as this offers a moment of serenity, a personal release from the professional hothouse.

"It's always good knowing that your parents are always trying to tweak your game. They can see a different side of it and sometimes I can slip... and here's another earful!" he said.

Joe Schmidt's stern video reviews have nothing on the chats between Aki Snr and Jnr. Still, we wonder who is the toughest critic: Schmidt or Hercules Aki?

"Dad is," Aki replied immediately. "He's a very tough critic. I'm always pleased to have parents like that who are always tough on me and making sure I do well. So, yeah, it's good."

The handling errors he referred to occurred in the opening quarter against Italy, yet, befitting his gradual improvement at Test level, his searing break and pass off the left for Keith Earls on the right wing welcomed him to the game in some style.

For one who was a scrum-half in early childhood, and so unable to pass off his right he used to swivel 180 degrees to pass off his one good hand, Aki demonstrated that there is brain, as well as brawn, in his ability.

"The opportunity arises and you just have to make sure you take it and deliver. Fair play to the lads who got the ball for us and we just took it from there, and Earlsy will finish it off when you give him the opportunity," said Aki. "As a player you are always learning. When I first started playing that's nearly all I knew, just carry the ball.

"As you grow older and into the game you start learning things. There is a bit more to just bashing it up a few times. You have to distribute as well.

"Sometimes you need to do the nitty gritty as well. Roll up the sleeves and do the dirty work as well and go straight ahead."

His first try, too, reflected what he can bring, particularly now with the experience of Robbie Henshaw absent and a renewal of November's midfield with Chris Farrell beckoning.

"It was a very good bonus and I was just happy to help out the lads by doing my job, and if the try comes then you don't complain," said Aki.

"You always have to feel comfortable and the same time always be on edge. You can't be complacent, there is always someone ready to take the spot.

"You can't be too comfortable. You have to be doing the right things at the right time."

His returning centre partner will test his intellectual as well as physical abilities.

"There is ownership on every individual to do everything right. I'm just as new as Chris is and we have to make sure we put our head down and work for each other," he said. "If he gets the nod he is a class player. He does everything right and he is a strong, big boy.

"We had a good go together against Argentina but we are always looking to improve.

"Once we get into our comfort zone and we are there as one team and doing everything right for each other and looking for the same result, boys start sharing stuff and opening up.

"When an opportunity arises I will do what is for the betterment of the team, not myself."

Ireland assistant Andy Farrell says he is wise beyond his years. And then there is his dad who, as usual, will rise in the middle of the night to watch his son, then sleep once more before church.

He broke the routine once, in November, when the entire family decamped to Dublin for his debut against the Springboks.

The picture taken that day has been framed and his partner Kayla has afforded it pride of place in the Aki house.

And then the phone will ring. So many miles apart but, for those moments at least, as close as they have ever been.

Belfast Telegraph

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