Ireland captain Rory Best has urged debutant Bundee Aki not to sit back but rather step up and take charge against South Africa this evening.
Aki, 27, will make the leap to Test rugby at the Aviva Stadium having qualified for Ireland after three years of residency in Connacht and captain Best is hoping the New Zealand born centre can bring his powerhouse game to an Ireland jersey, in tandem with former clubmate and midfield partner Robbie Henshaw, just as he has with the westerners since his move from Super Rugby.
That also applies to potential debutant Darren Sweetnam, poised for his international bow off the bench after a blistering start to the season in Munster’s back three.
“They’re picked for a reason,” Best said yesterday. “I think it’s just to bring that out and don’t sit back and wait for something to happen, especially with Bundee.
“The reports coming out of Galway from boys like Robbie is that Bundee runs the show there.
“He really has to bring a little bit of that to us, don’t just sit back and let other people organise, he has to be the guy that has to step up.
“If Johnny (Sexton) is out of the play; in a ruck or having carried or whatever, to step up and be the guy to make a play. That’s what he’s been doing and it’s important that he does that.
“Ultimately - go out and enjoy it. These are special days, to be lucky enough to win on your first cap at home against a team like South Africa is special, and I think it’s a shame if you look back, on Monday or Tuesday or in five or 10 years’ time and look back and think ‘I didn’t enjoy any of that’.
“You’re going to be nervous, so just enjoy the nerves, the ups and downs that go with it, right up to half-past five.”
Best, 35 and set to win his 105th Test cap this evening, said he was happy to have been reappointed Ireland skipper for another season by head coach Joe Schmidt but would not look beyond that point.
“As a captain, get through this block and then get through the Six Nations and we’ll reassess,” he said.
“To be fair to Joe, there’s not many backdoors. If he was looking to change, he would have made the change.
“He said early enough in one of the summer camps that as long as I’d be happy to continue I’d be captain again and we’d reassess at the end of the season depending on where we were and how we felt and what was going on.
“So I suppose that’s something for the end of the season. But it was nice to be asked again.
“I think when you’re in that position and captaining the country you never like to assume anything, so it was good when Joe said: ‘we’d like you to do it again for this season’. It gave me the confidence that he liked what I was doing, I was doing a good job.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved