Ireland’s Bundee Aki will lead the Barbarians in their Quilter Cup showdown against England at Twickenham. Head coach Pat Lam has handed the captaincy to the Connacht centre who ‘epitomises what we need to do’ as the famous invitation side prepares to face Eddie Jones’s team on Sunday, May 27.
Bundee Aki, the newly-appointed Baa Baas captain, is a Grand Slam winner with Ireland with seven victories from seven starts since making his international debut against South Africa at the Aviva Stadium last November.
“I’d like to thank Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt for making Bundee available to us as he’ll be a big asset for the Barbarians,” said Bristol head coach Pat Lam, who brought Aki to Connacht from the Chiefs in 2014.
“The big thing about Bundee is that he’s an unbelievable competitor. A lot of the Pacific Island boys have that X-factor but he loves putting his head in the dark places and thriving in turnover and contact work.
“He’s a huge leader on the field and he has a great understanding and passion for the way I like the team to play. England is a game we’re going to have to work hard in and he epitomises what we need to do. We need the courage to play and move the ball and also to know when we have to tighten things up, and he’ll be at the centre of that.”
Lam already recruited superstar full-back Charles Piutau, who is leaving Ulster to join Bristol, and former Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, and the newly-announced initial 16-man group also includes Aki and his Connacht and Ireland team-mate Ultan Dillane, New Zealand pair Victor Vito and John Afoa, Wales’ Justin Tipuric, Australia duo Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sitaleki Timani, France’s Benjamin Kayser, Flip van der Merwe from South Africa and Argentinian Ramiro Herrera.
Another Ireland-capped player set to be involved is flying Connacht winger Niyi Adeolokun, as well as Welshmen Rhodri Williams from Lam’s current club Bristol. USA out-half AJ MacGinty, whom Lam also coached in Galway, gets a Baa Baas call-up after an impressive season with Sale Sharks, and the midfield options will include Luke McAlister, the former All Black who is retiring at the end of the season.
One famous tradition of the Barbarians is to select an uncapped player, although Clermont Auvergne prop Loni Uhila is hardly a rookie. The ‘Tongan Bear’ was a Super Rugby winner with the Hurricanes in 2016.
The Barbarians have faced England 16 times and are searching for a first win since the 39-29 victory in 2014. Last year’s contest saw England finish 28-14 winners with tries from Danny Care, Nick Isiekwe and Nathan Earle with Adam Ashley-Cooper and Joe Tekori replying.
Tickets for the upcoming Quilter Cup match between England and the Barbarians start at £25 for adults and £10 for children, and are available at www.englandrugby.com/tickets.