26 September 2023
~4 minutes read
The Bundee Burger is an Irish delicacy
Bundee Aki, in rugby-playing terms, is more Irish than he is Kiwi, and his professional rugby development is down to nine years in Ireland, playing for Connacht.
The 33 year-old New Zealand born and raised midfielder has been red hot for Ireland at the 2023 World Cup, but it would be grossly inaccurate to put any emphasis on Aki’s early professional career in New Zealand as a rugby player. He is a Test player, and one of the world’s best No 12s, because of how his nine years in Ireland have matured his all-round game.
Aki is one of the big-name players in Connacht’s BKT United Rugby Championship squad, and in the past month, he has shown every quality that makes Connacht such a difficult team to beat in the BKT URC and in European competitions.
Aki’s World Cup started with imposing displays against Romania and Tonga and a brutal demonstration of power play against defending World Cup holders South Africa in Paris last Saturday evening.
Aki’s match-up with Springboks 2019 World Cup winner and inside centre Damian de Allende was a heavyweight clash and little separated the two when their worlds collided in contact.
It was when Aki put down the accelerator on the hapless Manie Libbok that the Boks’ defence burst open. Aki ran over the Bok flyhalf Libbok and then showed his appreciation of defences in how he kept going for 60-plus metres before being swamped by the Boks’ scrambling defence.
Ireland scored their only try, courtesy of the Aki break, and it just so happened to go to Connacht teammate Mack Hansen, who has also taken his individual game to another level since arriving in Ireland from Australia.
Aki, a proud New Zealander, is equally proud of being an adopted Irish citizen. His story at Connacht and for Ireland is very similar to South African-born and raised No 8 CJ Stander.
Both arrived in Ireland early in their professional careers and both grew into enforcer roles, Stander as No 8 for Munster and Aki in the Connacht midfield. Their progression to the Irish team was always a formality after they had served a three-year residency, and both players reached 50 Tests.
Both also played for the British & Irish Lions.
Aki, at 33, is at the peak of his playing powers and the numbers are reflective of his impact at the World Cup. He is the leading player in carries, metres run, in metres gained, in gainline success and in defenders beaten.
His defence, when required, has been the equal of his attack, with his try-saving tackle on Jesse Kriel just one example in Ireland’s pulsating 13-8 win against the Springboks.
Aki, born in Auckland, New Zealand, made his professional debut for Counties-Manukau and played 43 matches between 2011 and 2014. He also played 25 matches for the Chiefs.
His playing misfortunate, at the time, was that Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams were providing the All Blacks with the most potent inside centre tag team in international rugby.
Both Nonu and Williams were at their best between 2011 and 2015 when the All Blacks won back-to-back World Cups.
Aki leaving for Ireland was never a case of one that New Zealand missed, simply because of who they already had, but it was a case of Ireland recognising just what they needed and what they could get in Aki.
It was also a boost for the Irish provincial game that Aki settled in Galway and adopted the green of Connacht and not the colours of traditionally more internationally celebrated Irish provinces Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
Equally, the addition to Connacht of Hansen on the wing.
Connacht have long lived in the shadows of, especially Leinster, but globally every rugby supporter knows of Connacht because they know of Bundee Aki.
Bundee Aki is now so famous in Ireland that he’s had a cheese and bacon burger named after him. The ‘Bundee Burger’.
The last player to have a burger in his name was the late All Blacks icon Jonah Lomu. It would be fair to say that Aki’s in good company and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that his impact in the first month of the 2023 World Cup has been Lomu-like.