O'Mahony leaps to defence of Ireland's Kiwi newboy

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 09:11

REACTION: New Zealand-born Bundee Aki is fully entitled to play for Ireland, insists Irish flank Peter O'Mahony.

The 27-year-old centre, who will make his Test debut for his adopted country on Saturday against South Africa, qualified to play for the Irish (in October) under the three-year residency rule (World Rugby changed it to five years earlier this year) but his selection has provoked a furore amongst some.

Aki himself said at the beginning of the season that he wasn't Irish and didn't feel comfortable at taking his place in the national team if there was an Irish player being kept out. 

Former Ireland lock-turned-journalist Neil Francis claimed the inclusion of Aki - who was pivotal in unfashionable province Connacht winning the then Pro12 trophy in 2016 - even in the squad was "fundamentally wrong".

But O'Mahony has no time for such statements.  

"I've been very lucky enough to play alongside some super players that have benefited and have come in from that rule," O'Mahony told the media on Thursday at the Irish base.

"It's a rule that stands there and Bundee, or any of the [previous] lads, have done nothing wrong. I can't understand why there was such a focus on him, personally."

O'Mahony, who will partner another player who qualified through residency his Munster teammate South Africa-born Christiaan Stander in the back row on Saturday, said he hoped Aki would be able to ignore the controversy.  

"I didn't think it was very impressive from the media point of view, to be honest. That's the job and the life that we run, and it is part and parcel of it, and I suppose it's water off a duck's back for him," said O'Mahony.

The 28-year-old star, who captained the British and Irish Lions in the first Test loss to New Zealand but was then dropped for the remaining two matches, said there is immense competition nowadays for a place in the Ireland squad.

However, the feeling of jubilation or relief at gaining a place in the line-up is not reflected in the room when coach Joe Schmidt reads out the list.

"You certainly can't be celebrating," he said. "There's guys in the room who have done a huge amount of work and as much work as the guys who have been lucky enough to get into the 23.

"There's a respect there and a few minutes there when it might be a bit of a surprise for guys.

"It's a lot to take in but you've got to go then and train and train well because there's only two or three sessions before you go and take the field.

"It's a small window where you take a little bit in, but you move on. There's a job to be done."

O'Mahony, though, says that no one in the present climate can assume that the green jersey is for keeps and if they do think that then they are making a big mistake.

"That's the focus [keeping your place] every time anyone comes into any camp, there's no one who has ever walked into an Ireland jersey before," he said.

Agence France-Presse