MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) – Rampaging Ireland centre Bundee Aki has had a magnificent start to the Rugby World Cup and leads the way in several attacking metrics after three rounds, finding the form that has made him such an icon back home there is a hamburger named in his honour.
The sight of Aki crashing his way through South Africa, one of the best defences in the competition, in Saturday’s 13-8 win in Paris not only had fans chanting his name, but also produced the winning moment as his burst led to a try for wing Mack Hansen.
As he stepped up to receive his deserved man of the match award and the Cranberries’ classic song ‘Zombie’ rang around the Stade de France, Irish fans gleefully sang, “in your head, in your head, Bundee! Bundee! Bundee!”
It is a sign of the huge affection for the New Zealand-born inside centre, who saw opportunities in his homeland limited as he came up against admittedly world class rivals for the All Blacks jersey in Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams.
He moved to Ireland to play for Connacht and after serving his residency period, made his international debut in 2017.
After Pool B wins over Romania, Tonga and South Africa, Aki has four tries and leads the World Cup in metres made with ball in hand (487), carries made (53), defenders beaten (22) and break passes (5), showing his incredible power, pace and ability to shake off defenders.
“What you see from Bundee is real physicality, real energy, both sides of the ball (attack and defence),” Ireland assistant coach John Fogarty said.
“Bundee is a great character, he does a huge amount of work in preparation with that centre group and the coaches, so he is very clear in his mind around what he needs to do in a game.”
It is these meaty displays that led an Irish fast food franchise to make the Bundee Burger.
Aki’s Ireland team mate Johnny Sexton leads the way in points scored so far at the World Cup with 45, while England wing Henry Arundell tops the try-scoring charts after his five against Chile in his only outing of the tournament so far.
Uruguay flanker Manuel Ardao has the most breakdown steals with six and Australian number eight Rob Valetini leads the way with dominant tackles (7) despite the Wallabies’ struggles.
France wing Damian Penaud has the most linebreaks with nine.
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Christian Radnedge)