Bundee Aki has credited Joe Schmidt for facilitating the ease at which players can come in and out of the team without causing any disruption to performances.
Ever since Aki made his Ireland debut in November 2017, he has been a mainstay of Schmidt’s midfield.
That has somewhat been influenced by injuries to other players but it has also shown the Ireland boss’ trust in Aki and his ability to adapt and develop an understanding with a different player outside him each week.
In the 2018 Six Nations, Aki played with Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw and Chris Farrell. In November 2018, he partnered Ulster’s Will Addison after the former Sale Sharks man was included at the last minute due to an injury to Henshaw in the warm-up against Argentina.
So far in the current Six Nations campaign, Aki has partnered Ringrose and Farrell in the games against England and Scotland, respectively.
So it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Aki is the glue holding Ireland’s midfield together and the Connacht man reveals that he doesn’t find it difficult partnering up with someone different every week.
“The good thing about it is you are trying to create different combinations with different people which is really cool,” Aki said.
“You know how other guys how they play and what they like to do. I wouldn’t say it’s difficult, it’s about building properly together as a group during the week because you never know who is going to be playing.”
In typically humble fashion, Aki credits the training which Schmidt implements during the week to allow this to happen.
“I think Joe nailed it throughout the week, making sure we got together in groups, in the partnerships. Making sure we get together, look at the analysis, talk to each other, how we’d defend, things like that. It’s about making sure everyone is on the same page. No one misses a beat. That’s what Joe has planted in us.”
Although Aki is a constant presence at 12, the 28-year-old admits that Schmidt doesn’t put any extra pressure on him, he just wants him to concentrate on his own game and his own performance.
“He doesn’t demand anything of me. He just wants me to make sure I play the game, am comfortable, feel free to play and express myself, making sure I gel well with guys inside and outside of me. Not shying away from anything.
“Joe has given a lot of confidence to most of the guys who came in at the last minute, as you saw with Will Addison last year, same as Chris Farrell. Joe has trust in a lot of the boys. Boys do perform really well when they are chucked in the deep end. I think that is something we have built on really well.”
One of Aki’s partners in midfield has been Munster’s Farrell and the Connacht man has been impressed with what he has seen from the powerful centre and he is glad that he is currently playing with the 25-year-old, rather than against him.
“Chris is a big boy and well able to look after himself at the moment. He’s been very good. He stepped in late last year against Wales and he got man-of-the-match. He got injured, hasn’t played since and came back in against Scotland and played really well.
“He’s an unbelievable player, he has a good skill set. He’s a big lad, is hard to take down. When you have a guy like him running down your channel, you’d be a bit scared. I know I would be too.”