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Thursday 5 December 2019

I'd treat it the same as the way I focused on NZ: Aki

Primed: Bundee Aki. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Primed: Bundee Aki. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Bundee Aki insists he will treat facing his fatherland Samoa exactly the same way he took on New Zealand in November.

The Ireland juggernaut centre admitted it would be a source of huge family pride should he get the nod to take on Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday.

Aki was born in Auckland to Samoan parents and starred with the Chiefs before joining Connacht in 2014, committing to Ireland in both rugby and community.

The 29-year-old conjured a barnstorming performance when Ireland dispatched New Zealand 16-9 in Dublin in November, producing the perfect riposte to All Blacks coach Ian Foster who had questioned his residency qualification.

Aki acts as an emotional touchstone for this Ireland squad, his physicality crucial to Joe Schmidt's side - and he has declared himself ready to repeat that stunning All Blacks showing if he rolls out against Samoa.

"That would be a proud moment, if I do get to that stage," said Aki. "But I would treat it exactly the same as the way I focused on playing against New Zealand as well.

"I've just got to try and focus on what I can do best for the team first, and we'll see how we go this week and hopefully I can help the team put in a good performance."

Foster said of Aki "he looks like an Irishman now doesn't he" in a quip that backfired in November, and then the 22-cap centre entered the World Cup with more residency rule criticism ringing in his ears.

Aki continues to brush off his critics in composed style however, insisting everyone is entitled to an opinion but doubtless not agreeing with his detractors.

Samoa would have no criticism for Aki, with the Pacific Island nations understanding of those who share their bloodline supporting families and communities by trotting the globe. Asked if facing the Test teams with whom he shares heritage brings out the best in him, Aki said: "I think I've alluded to it plenty already about the residency rule, and look everybody has their own opinion like I said; they have a right to do that.

"But for me I'm just going to try to do the best I can for this jersey, try to play well and if I get the chance to play on the field I'll try my best to do everyone proud as I always do.

"So I'll just try to play as well as I can, that's all I can do as a player."

Head coach Joe Schmidt handed his weary players the weekend off in a bid to refresh minds and bodies.

The Kiwi boss insisted that Ireland will not use any of their time ahead of Samoa as preparation for a potential quarter-final against New Zealand or South Africa.

"I do think we've got to take it one game at a time, particularly having lost to Japan," said Schmidt.

"So we will set our sights on Samoa because we need to win there to have a chance of qualifying and as I said if we get a win with a little bit more we know we're in a quarter-final, we control that ourselves.

"And in the end, when you get to a quarter-final everything hinges on the quarter-final itself.

"It becomes very much a one-off game and one thing I learned from last time at the World Cup is that you can be on an upswing but things can change if you've got injuries or you've got a little bit of a confidence hit because you've got a number of new guys in."

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