Aki takes centre stage with Henshaw

Linley MacKenzie

Connacht and Galwegians are celebrating the success of Bundee Aki who has been named on the Irish rugby team to take on the Lions in this weekend's deciding final Test against South Africa.

The 31-years-old will make his Lions' Test debut alongside his Ireland and former Connacht midfield partner Robbie Henshaw.

Aki, who joined Connacht in Pat Lam's PRO12 winning era, says it is "a huge deal and a huge honour" to represent the prestigious Lions team.

“A lot of people pray to try to get to where we are and I’m blessed to be where I am at the moment. I’m grateful for the opportunity I’m getting this week. Not many people can say they’ve got a [Lions] Test cap, so I’m honestly not taking this lightly at all.

“I’m going to relish the time I have on the pitch and try to take it with both hands.”

Aki is also enjoying the new comaraderie of fellow Lions.

“I’ve actually had the best time of my life being part of this group, this group is special,” he says. “You’d only know how well we get along as a group and as a team when you’re around us.”

One of those fellow players is England's Owen Farrell which surprised Aki.

"I didn’t think I’d get along with him so well. Obviously, you only know him from across the pitch, you only know him when you’re playing against him. But honestly, I’ve learnt so much off that guy. He’s a great bloke to have around.”

Aki will join his former Connacht centre partner Robbie Henshaw, and it is that intuitive bond and their complementary attributes which Lions' coach Warren Gatland hopes will help seal the Lions' series.

Gatland, the former Galwegians, Connacht and Ireland Ireland coach, says Aki and Henshaw are a "pretty familiar combination", and the midfield combination had been always been the source of debate, he says.

Gatland says they have looked at the physicality Bundee brought in the A game, and the combination of Henshaw and Aki working together.

"They [South Africa] use De Allende a lot off nine as a hit-up merchant, so Bundee has been brought in there to try to negate that. But he's also a good rugby player in terms of getting go-forward ball. He's not just a hit-up person, he has some got some really good footwork and offloading ability, and the other thing is to give Robbie an opportunity at test match level in that 13 channel too."

 

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