Bundee Aki leads powerful Ireland tribute to late Māori rugby star Sean Wainui
"I'm going to take it with me."
Named captain of Ireland for the first time, Bundee Aki was tasked with leading the poignant Irish tribute to the late Sean Wainui.
At Waikato Stadium, before his side took on the Maori All Blacks, the Connacht centre broke from the Irish ranks, walked forward and laid down a No.11 green jersey in honour of the late Sean Wainui.
The Chiefs and Maori All Blacks star played 10 times and scored eight times for the representative side. Aged just 25, he died after a car crash, last year, and his young family came out to the centre of the pitch to receive the jersey, and remember Wainui, following an emotional Haka.
— Pat McCarry (@patmccarry) June 29, 2022
"They deservedly won today" - Bundee Aki
One may have worried that the Maori All Blacks players could have found it hard to come down after such raw, touching moments, but they fired into Ireland and led 32-10 at half-time.
They went on to win 32-17 to give Ireland a losing start to their five-game tour. Following the match, Bundee Aki spoke of his pride, to Sky Sport NZ, and, at one stage, choked up when he was asked about his close and wider family getting along to Waikato Stadium to support him.
Although he was born and raised in South Auckland, the centre represented Chiefs in Super Rugby and won a league title with them in 2013.
"Fair play to the Maori All Black boys," said Aki. "They came out firing and were playing on top of us from the get-go, and we couldn't get our game going. Ah, man. They deservedly won today."
"We got a lot of learnings out of this game," he added. "A lot of new boys here, a lot of young guys, and they certainly will learn. We will all learn from this game, and try build from it for the rest of the series. But, as I said, the Maori All Blacks were a way better side tonight.
"Yeah... I've been away from home for a long time. To get this honour and privilege to lead out this team, I'm going to take it with me."
Up next for Ireland is the First Test against New Zealand, on Saturday. Head coach Andy Farrell has said the Test team has done a lot of separate preparation from the midweek side, but he will have been concerned with how his 'A' team were rumbled in many aspects of their game.
With James Hume going off injured, Bundee Aki could find himself on the replacements bench for that Test opener.
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