Bundee Aki: Former Kiwi bank teller set for All Blacks battle

Bundee Aki lines up in defence during Ireland's Test with Argentina in Dublin, 2018 Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Having quit rugby to work as a bank teller in his late teens, Bundee Aki will offer thanks again to Tana Umaga when he runs out for the Test showdown between the world's top two ranked rugby nations in Dublin on Saturday.

Aki will be in the Ireland midfield for their clash with his native New Zealand, having switched allegiance in 2014 ahead of an international debut a year ago.

The 28-year-old still recalls the career-defining moment when Umaga strolled into the Auckland bank branch where he worked. A then-overweight Aki had shelled a promising age group career and pursued regular employment to support his new-born daughter, with a second child on the way.

Former All Blacks skipper Umaga convinced the surprised youngster to give rugby another crack at the Counties Manukau province where he was coaching. Aki stood out at NPC level for four seasons, along with two Super Rugby campaigns with the Chiefs, before joining Kiwi coach Pat Lam at Irish club Connacht.

A Test debut arrived after serving three years as a resident in Galway and he has been part of a winning Irish team in 10 of his 11 appearances, all starts, with the sole loss coming against the Wallabies in Brisbane in June.

Blues coach Umaga was thrilled to see his former charge continue a rags to riches journey which has been built on dedication and hard work.

"It's been great from my perspective to watch Bundee develop as a player and take the opportunities that have been afforded him," Umaga told reporters in Dublin this week.

"As a young man when I first came across him, he was at a bit of a crossroads in terms of what he wanted to do with his life. We asked him to get back involved and he has really put in some great shifts into where he is now compared to where he was then.

"It's a great story. I'm really proud to see what he has achieved."

Aki is the second allegiance-switching Kiwi to face the All Blacks on their European tour, with Hurricanes flanker Brad Shields having represented England last week.

Assistant coach Ian Foster was staying out of the debate over the merits of nation-swapping at the top level.

"He has been over here a while," Foster said. "You have moulded him into an Irishman, he looks like an Irishman now doesn't he?

"So he plays the Irish way... but we are kind of getting used to that."