Bundee Aki once QUIT rugby to work in a bank to support his family… a decade on he is ready to cash in with the Lions as they get set to embark on tour of South Africa
- Ireland’s Bundee Aki is part of the Lions’ squad set to face South Africa in July
- It comes a decade on after quitting rugby to provide for his young family
- He returned after a year and has made 31 appearances for Ireland so far
- The centre shed tears after finding out he made Warren Gatland’s squad
- Aki’s family will be watching from Australia, New Zealand and Samoa
Bundee Aki is ready to cash in with the Lions, a decade on from quitting rugby to become a bank teller in New Zealand.
The Ireland centre, 31, took a year away from the sport back in 2011 and worked for Westpac in Auckland so he could provide for his young family.
‘At the time I had a new born and I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to pursue a career in rugby,’ the midfielder of Samoan descent explained.
Bundee Aki is preparing for his first tour with the British and Irish Lions in South Africa
Former bank worker Aki admitted to ‘shedding tears’ when he found out he made the team
‘At the end of the day it’s about my family and my kids so I had to make that sacrifice to be able to provide for my family. At the time I was only playing club rugby.
‘I wouldn’t change a thing. I did everything I could to be a good provider for my family. I make sure I put them first in everything I do.
‘When the Lions squad was announced I certainly shed a few tears with my wife and my parents on the phone.
‘Just talking about it now I’m getting a few goosebumps because the sacrifices we have made as a family have been unbelievable and this is it coming to fruition.
‘I have a lot of people to thank especially my wife who has sacrificed a lot to enable me to play pro rugby.’
Aki’s father will be watching from Australia, his mother from New Zealand and his other relatives from Samoa this summer when he represents the Lions.
It was only in 2017 he qualified on residency for Ireland, having played for Connacht for three years, since winning 31 caps for his adopted country.
Plenty of former Irish players have been uneasy that he switched nationalities during his career but Aki has no time for those critics.
Aki and the Lions face Japan on Saturday before they fly out to South Africa for the tour
‘At the end of the day I did what I had to do for my family,’ he added. ‘From the get-go all the decisions I have made have been to make it better for my family. People have their opinions — that’s for them. I have nothing against them.’
With many dads in the Lions squad, on Sunday they celebrated Fathers’ Day together with video messages sent to the Jersey camp from the players’ families and children.
‘When the videos came through of my family and my girls talking, I didn’t want to show the emotions but there were a lot of goosebumps,’ said Aki.
‘It’s tough not being around your family at these kind of times. But you’re doing it for them, it gives us that bit of a push, you’re going to be away from your family but you’re doing it for them, and everyone else who is watching as well.’
Aki faced critics for switching allegiances to Ireland, something which has not affected the centre
Having lost to the Japanese, who the Lions play in Edinburgh this Saturday, at the 2019 World Cup with Ireland, Aki is wary of another upset.
‘They’re dark horses, you know?’ he concluded. ‘They could tip over any team on a good day. We know what we’re coming up against. They’re one of the great teams to play against.
‘They’ve come a long way, they’re a team that poses so much threat around the park, they play with a lot of confidence. The detail they put into their skills is phenomenal, it’s great to watch. They’re a great team.’
Scottish prop Zander Fagerson added on the Brave Blossoms, who have not played a Test since hosting the last World Cup: ‘They are going to be fast, physical and they’re a good scrummage unit. We know what they are going to bring.’
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