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Joe Schmidt responds to criticisms of Bundee Aki representing Ireland

Bundee Aki, Ireland
Image: Aki is in line to make his 12th Ireland cap on Saturday, and first against his native New Zealand

Joe Schmidt has rubbished the debate surrounding New Zealand-born centre Bundee Aki representing Ireland.

As the build-up to Saturday's Test between Ireland and the All Blacks rumbles on, several mind-games have been at play.

The inclusion of Bundee Aki in the Ireland squad over the last year was picked up by the Kiwi media in recent weeks, with the eligibility of the Connacht centre via residency rules a hot topic.

When quizzed on the issue, Joe Schmidt didn't mince his words.

"I think Bundee has probably demonstrated through the last year, he made his debut against South Africa last year in this particular section of the year, I think he won personality of the year. That's the nature of Bundee - his popularity," mused the Ireland head coach. "Everybody knows he's going to give absolutely 100%.

"It's like asking was Jerome Kaino 100% ready to play for the All Blacks because he was born in a foreign country. Or Chris Masoe, or Joe Rokocoko or any of those guys."
Joe Schmidt

"Having coached all those guys, they were very ready to play for the All Blacks, I think Bundee Aki is very ready to play for us in this weekend's fixture."

The World Cup champions head to Dublin off the back of a narrow win over England at Twickenham, and while there is a consensus around Ireland this week that they were far from their best in the 16-15 triumph, Schmidt warned that New Zealand's comeback showed just how devastating they can be.

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"To get a 15-0 lead, I thought England were super early in that game. The ability of the New Zealand team to get back on [was impressive].

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New Zealand fought back from 15-0 down to record a narrow 16-15 win against England at Twickenham.

"I remember the one minute and 39 seconds to get them from the tap penalty to the try-line when Ryan Crotty goes over, 100 seconds of pretty agonising viewing for us.

"That's the sort of thing they've delivered a number of times.

"With 20 minutes left in South Africa recently, they were down 30-13. That's an incredible turnaround to get up and win that game. They have made a habit of doing it.

"While they may seem vulnerable at times, I don't think there is any team in World Rugby that can score as quickly as the All Blacks."

With 10 months to go until the World Cup in Japan, Schmidt knows that winning on Saturday would lay down a huge marker, but says that his side are focusing more on the short term.

"It's always an achievement to beat the All Blacks. That's why we limit ourselves to once every 115 years because we don't want to get carried away," he joked. "World Cup cycle is one of the more irrelevant terms. Our cycle is a 24 hour one, a weekly one.

"It is formidable. It would be a huge feather in these fellas' caps if they topple them (New Zealand) on Saturday."

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