New Zealand full-back Damian McKenzie refused to stoke the much-discussed Bundee Aki fire on Thursday with the All Blacks just days out from their huge clash with Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
The Connacht centre has been the subject of much All-Black attention throughout the week as he prepares to take on the country of his birth.
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster put extended focus on Aki claiming that he has been “moulded into a Irish man” while the NZ Herald name-checked Aki in a critical piece on the residents rule.
Aki signed for Connacht from the Chiefs in 2014 and made his Ireland debut in a victory over South Africa in 2017 having lived in Ireland for three years.
New Zealand are no strangers to facing players they are more than familiar with, having already faced Brad Shields in their narrow victory over England last weekend.
Hooker Dane Coles outlined that he had targetted his fellow kiwi Shields during the Haka, eyeing him up for its duration.
“I didn’t take my eyes off him! I found him and I just looked straight at him. We locked eyes for the whole Haka, so, he wasn’t giving me much and I was going pretty hard at it so it was good, a good little moment.”
McKenzie was asked whether or not Aki would receive special treatment, similar to Shields, but the fullback remained coy on his own personal intentions.
“Yeah Bundee was here during my first year at the Chiefs,” explained McKenzie.
“He’s a great player and he’s obviously doing really well over here and it’s awesome to see him in the Irish team and playing some great rugby. He’s got a great skillset and carries the ball pretty hard.”
“I don’t really know, it’s more just about getting out there, doing the haka and locking eyes with whoever is in front of you so I’ll try and concentrate on getting the moves right for starters.”
It will be interesting to see if the All-Blacks do decide to target Aki during the haka and throughout the game, with the Connacht centre being one of Ireland’s strongest ball carriers.
Joe Schmidt made four changes for the clash against the All Blacks with Dan Leavy, Rob Kearney, Devon Toner and Garry Ringrose coming in for Sean O’Brien, Jordan Larmour, Iain Henderson and Will Addison.
The All Blacks make just one change from the side that beat England with Ryan Crotty replacing Sonny Bill Williams at centre.