The perils of having a large extended family are becoming all too apparent to Bundee Aki as he tries to wrangle enough tickets for his Australia-based kinfolk to watch Ireland take on the Wallabies over the next three weeks.
The New Zealand-born Connacht centre has relatives all over Australia, including the three Test venues on Ireland’s summer tour in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney and the 28-year-old says it is a major challenge to get them all a seat for this eagerly-awaited series, which starts on Saturday at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
He needs 15 for Brisbane this weekend, 25 for Melbourne the following Saturday, where his mother’s relatives live “and Sydney, all my dad’s family, which is going to be a lot but I don’t know what the numbers are”.
“I’m struggling at the moment! I am struggling to get everybody in there,” Aki said of the opening Test.
“They’re well aware that I only get a few tickets here and there but they’re well and able to get some tickets for themselves if they have to. It’s always good to see them supporting me at the stadium.
“Uncles and aunties and cousins. It is amazing but it’s pretty stressful as well. I just try and leave it to my partner to try and sort it all out. She can get the tickets for them if she has to, I’ll just try and focus on what I need to do here.”
Staying focused may be easier said than done but Aki said his family respect he has a job to do.
“I’ve got a few family here in Brizzy and a whole lot of them over in Melbourne and Sydney, they live here. My mum’s family are in Melbourne and all of my dad’s side are over in Sydney.
"So it’s about trying to keep my head in the game and trying to catch up with them at the appropriate time.
“They know I’ve got a bit of work to do before I try and catch up with them.”
Having not played since April 28, the final day of the regular Guinness PRO14 season when Connacht trounced an understrength Leinster side 47-10, Aki has been working hard to keep his fitness ticking over.
Yet he was not helped by an ankle strain that caused him to withdraw from captaining the Barbarians against England on May 27.
“All good now, I’m ready to go,” he said.
“I’m feeling good. It’s the end of the season. It’s great to be back together with the lads and enjoying each other’s company and see how well we can gel again and bounce from the success that we’ve had so far.”
Doing that on Australian soil is a difficult ask for Ireland, despite their billing as favourites for a first series win here since the 2-0 sweep in 1979.
“It’s going to be tough for us, to be fairly honest, it is the end of our season and we’re trying to gel as a group, trying to build on our success from the Six Nations.
“Australia beat the All Blacks on their last game there, it’s going to be a tough ask to come down to their home ground, their backyard, to try and beat them. It’s not going to be easy, it will be tough from the beginning to the end. We’ll see how we go, we’ll fancy our chances, but it’ll be tough.”
Handed his Test debut last November against South Africa after qualifying through three years of Irish residency, Aki is yet to lose with the national team in his seven appearances, all starts and five of which came in the run to the Six Nations Grand Slam.
The Connacht powerhouse has no hesitation in regarding Ireland’s Slam as the highlight of his career to date, but he added: “I didn’t realise how big it is to win a Grand Slam and how hard it is to win one.
“I realised in that room when we spoke at the Captain’s Run that only two of the lads had won the Grand Slam, Rory Best and Rob Kearney.
"That was a bit of a surprise for me, knowing that all the lads that I was standing next to, who have been in the squad for a while, hadn’t won a Grand Slam.
“To do it with them for the first time is something that I will cherish forever, it’s one of those things that you want to keep going; striving to get more and more trophies to win together as a team.
“It’s about bonding together as a group, I think we’re bonding really well at the moment.
“There will be lows, but it’s one of those things that helps you gel as a group.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved