Bundee Aki reveals how Tana Umaga rescued his rugby career in new book
Umaga's tackle on Brian O'Driscoll might be forgiven after reading this book about Connacht's Pro12 success12:07 Saturday 29 October 2016, 12:07 29 Oct 2016
Connacht's Bundee Aki has been something of a revelation for the province and his contribution was at the forefront of their Pro12 success last year.
His performances across 26 appearances were eventually rewarded with the Guinness Pro12 Player of the Season award. But in the new book Front Up Rise Up (the story of Connacht Rugby's Pro12 success), penned by Irish Times rugby correspondent Gerry Thornley, readers will discover how close Aki's career came to a premature end only for New Zealand's Tana Umaga to come in and rescue the situation.
Ireland's primary association with Umaga is largely a hostile one on account of that famous spear tackle on Brian O'Driscoll during the 2005 Lions tour. But one passage in this book, might go some way towards assuaging those ill-feelings towards Umaga.
At 18, Aki fathered his first child and the newfound responsibility of parenthood provoked him to shelve his rugby commitments and get a job in a bank. At one point it looked as though he would have to withdraw from the sport entirely.
One day however, Umaga entered the bank with a surprise proposition for Aki.
"I’ve heard a few good stories about you. You’re a pretty good footballer?” said Umaga. Aw yeah, it’s been a while, though,” Aki replied. I was over 100 kg then. I was pretty fat,” he admits with a chuckle, looking back.
Umaga continued, “I’m pretty interested in seeing how good you are and seeing how you play. I’m not going to promise anything. Just come along and train. If all goes well, all goes well."
It was a whisper of a chance to revive his career, but ultimately, that was all the Samoan native needed. But the decision to return to rugby brought some risks with it as well.
His partner Kayla was expecting their second child at the time and Aki's extensive periods away from the house, put pressure on their home life.
"It was quite tough at that time, because I wasn’t paid either for missing the hours at work or for rugby. Then I had a few ups and downs with my partner, just because it was so rough – especially when you leave at six in the morning and come home at night. But I knew I had to do the hard work. You can’t go anywhere in life without the hard work."
By 2011, Aki was rewarded with a start for Counties Manukau. He scored six tries in his second season and two years later he signed for Connacht. There were worries about Aki's future with Connacht recently, but he has since renewed his contract with the western province which will ensure he will remain with them for another three years.
Other interesting aspects of Aki's life including where his name came from and memories of parents shouting at their children at games, are included in an extract published in today's Irish Times.
The very best bits delivered every weekSubscribe now