The Incredible Story Of How A Legendary All Black Convinced Bundee Aki To Play Rugby Again
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Bundee Aki’s route to Test rugby hasn’t been the most traditional. The 28-year-old Ireland international has become a integral part of Joe Schmidt’s team in the last 12 months, but things could have been a lot different had a certain All Black not bumped into him many years ago.
Aki was a serious prospect in New Zealand at a young age, but became frustrated with rugby in his late teens and ended up quitting the sport altogether. The centre then took a job as a bank teller before legendary All Black Tana Umaga strolled in one day and convinced Aki to change his mind.
A then overweight Aki had taken the job to provide for his daughter, with a second child on the way. But Umaga was convinced he still had what it took to become a top player, and got him to give rugby another crack at the Counties Manukau province where he was coaching.
Aki stood out for four years in the NPC side and was eventually called up the the Chiefs in Super Rugby, impressing in two seasons with the Hamilton side before Pat Lam knocked on his door and convinced him to move to Connacht.
Fast forward three years and Aki was playing Test rugby for Ireland, and is set to come up against his country of birth this weekend and stand on the other side of the Haka. And Tana Umaga, who is in Dublin this week for the game, couldn’t be happier.
“It’s been great from my perspective to watch Bundee develop as a player and take the opportunities that have been afforded him,” Umaga told reporters in Dublin this week.
“As a young man when I first came across him, he was at a bit of a crossroads in terms of what he wanted to do with his life. We asked him to get back involved and he has really put in some great shifts into where he is now compared to where he was then.”
“It’s a great story. I’m really proud to see what he has achieved.”
An incredible story. This weekend’s game will be very special for Aki.