All Blacks vs Ireland: Joe Schmidt defends Bundee Aki's right to represent Irish

Coach Joe Schmidt has strongly defended Bundee Aki's right to represent Ireland, as they prepare to face his native New Zealand All Blacks on Sunday (NZ time).

The Auckland-born star departed for the northern hemisphere in 2014, after signing with Connacht and completed the three-year residency qualification that made him eligible to play for the number two-ranked side in the world.

Aki will earn his 12th cap this weekend, when he faces the All Blacks for the first time - just over a year since making his international debut for his adopted homeland.

He will be the second 'Kiwi' to face the All Blacks for the first time, after Brad Shields started at blindside flanker for England in last week's test at Twickenham.

Shields was fast-tracked into Eddie Jones' squad due to his English-born parents.

All Black assistant coach Ian Foster took a cheeky swipe at Aki earlier the week, saying the 28-year-old looks Irish, after spending four years in the country.

"You have moulded him into an Irish man," Foster said. "He looks like an Irishman now, doesn't he?

"There will be a couple of our guys who have probably played with him and know him personally, but we are kind of getting used to that."

Aki will start at second-five when the two nations square off and Schmidt insists the former 2013 Super Rugby champion has proven his loyalties to Ireland over the years.

"I think Bundee has fully demonstrated his commitment through the last year," said Schmidt.

"He made his debut against South Africa last year in this particular section of the year and in 2016, he won [PRO12] Personality of the Year. That's the nature of Bundee and his popularity, because everybody knows he's going to give 100 percent."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen with Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen with Ireland coach Joe Schmidt. Photo credit: Getty

Schmidt then compared Aki's move to play for Ireland to how New Zealand lure Pacific Island talent to bolster the All Blacks.

"It's like asking was Jerome Kaino 100 percent ready to play for the All Blacks, because he was born in a foreign country, or Chris Masoe or Joe Rokocoko - any of those guys.

"So, having coached all those guys, they were very ready to play for the All Blacks and I know that Bundee Aki is very ready to play for us in this weekend’s fixture."

All Blacks fullback Damian McKenzie is looking forward to squaring off against his former Chiefs teammate.

"He was there in my first year with the Chiefs," he said. "He is a great player and doing really well over here, and it is awesome to see him in the Irish team.

"He has a great skill set and carries the ball hard."

Ireland will face New Zealand for the first time since their 21-9 loss at the Aviva Stadium two years ago.

They faced a rampant All Blacks team that day, determined to avenge their first-ever loss to Ireland two weeks earlier, when Schmidt’s men pulled off a superlative 40-29 triumph in Chicago.

"It's always an achievement to beat the All Blacks," Schmidt said jokingly. "That's why we limit ourselves to once every 115 years, because we don't want to get carried away with things.

"When they first arrived [in Ireland] in 1905, they were incredibly tough to knock over and I don't think they've changed too much.

"The depth of their experience, it is formidable and it would be a huge feather in these players' caps if they could topple them on Saturday."


Join us at 7:30am Sunday for live updates of the All Blacks vs Ireland test at Dublin

All Blacks vs Ireland: Joe Schmidt defends Bundee Aki's right to represent Irish
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