Interview With A Man: Bundee Aki - The Gloss Magazine

Interview With A Man: Bundee Aki

Rugby player Bundee Aki, 33, was born in New Zealand to Samoan parents. He began playing rugby at school and went on to play New Zealand Counties, then for New Zealand Chiefs. The centre for Ireland and Connacht has been living in Galway for ten years. He is married to Kayla and has three daughters and one son.

DESCRIBE YOUR PARENTS … Hardworking, loving and caring. Parents who had nothing but did everything they could for us to have everything. Every time I talk about my parents it hits the soft spot.

WHAT WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD LIKE? The area I grew up in was quite rough and if you hung around with the wrong people you could get caught up in the wrong things fairly easily. I was lucky to be given opportunities, not just once but many times, not just in rugby, but in many other ways, to get me to where I am today. A lot of people played a part in my upbringing.

HOW STRONG WAS YOUR SCHOOL’S INFLUENCE ON YOU? School (Manurewa High School) was a huge influence. I started playing there. Tim Nanai-Williams, a friend, and a very good player, (now playing for Stade Toulousain) went before me; I followed him.

WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU’D GROW UP TO BE? Rugby was always the thing, the biggest thing in New Zealand. I tried a lot of other things but I wasn’t very good at them. I did work in a bank – I was the only guy, very young, working with all these ladies. My manager (Kalo Payne-Smith) was a massive, massive rugby fan.

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE IMPORTANT FEMALE RELATIONSHIPS IN YOUR LIFE? Obviously my mother is the most important. Also bank manager Kalo – I was caught at the crossroads, where I had to give up work which was supporting my family (Bundee’s first daughter was born when he was 18) to play rugby, which wasn’t guaranteed. She said, go play rugby, and if it doesn’t work out, there will be a job here for you. And my wife, of course, and my three daughters.

YOUR MALE FRIENDSHIPS ARE FOR THE MOST PART … Strong. Five of us, including Tim, we’re friends since we were kids, know each other’s parents inside out. We are still close, care about each other … if one gets into trouble, the others do too, and generally when we are together, we get into trouble – good trouble!

HAVE YOUR FRIENDSHIPS CHANGED AS YOU HAVE GROWN OLDER? No, nothing has changed, regardless of the pathways we have all taken. We get together, it’s just the same as it always was.

FRIENDS IN THE GAME? I have very good relationships with lots of the guys. Peter O’Mahony – he’s grumpy, so I like getting on his bad side. I get along great with Robbie (Henshaw) – they call us the right bum cheek and left bum cheek: you see Robbie, you see me; you see me, you see Robbie. Jack Conan, Gary Ringrose, Conor Murray. The door to my room is always open, guys come in, shoot the breeze, have a cup of tea.

“People will either like you or dislike you. There is no point trying to be someone else, it’s just best to be yourself.”

YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO REGARD YOU AS … This is a hard one. My friends would probably be like: Loud. Annoying. I’d hope they’d think of me as loyal.

DO YOU STILL LOVE WHAT YOU DO? Oh yeah. I always say once I stop enjoying it or regard it as just a job, then I know it’s my time to finish up. But at the moment I am loving every minute of it.

IS FAME WHAT YOU IMAGINED IT WOULD BE? As a kid, you watch famous people play and you wonder what it’s like. At first it’s a bit of a shock but over time you learn that by being yourself, people will either like you or dislike you. There is no point trying to be someone else, it’s just best to be yourself.

YOUR ADVICE TO YOUNG RUGBY PLAYERS? I wish I could have told my younger self to enjoy my life with my friends – it goes just like that. You know what you want to achieve with your life and you get on with it, but you lose all the good times that come along with it. I would tell them to enjoy what they’re doing in the moment.

WHAT ARE THE THINGS YOU DO THAT KEEP YOU SANE? Going home to my family – my house is chaotic at the moment but I like that, it’s the switch-off from rugby. And playing Playstation – Fortnite and Call of Duty.

WHERE DO YOU GO ON HOLIDAY? I love going to Dubai. Kayla doesn’t love it as it’s long trip. But you’re guaranteed the weather, regardless, and there’s loads to do.

DO YOU COOK? Sometimes! I’m actually a good cook – but I’m often very tired. When it comes to cooking outside, I’m your man.

THE PERFECT WEEKEND INCLUDES … When we do get a chance we drive out to Connemara – but most of the time I don’t know when I’ll get home so most of our trips are last-minute and weather-dependent because of the kids. Every now and again, we go into Galway but it’s a bit chaotic – I do stand out a fair bit. We go out for dinner, then get back in the car, in and out.

STYLE SIGNIFIER? I’m a casual guy: trackpants, shorts, unless I go out for a proper dinner – then I wear chinos and a shirt, proper shoes. Full Nike training kit would be everyday wear. I love wearing basketball singlets from Elverys. I love NBA and NFL stuff.

YOU DEAL WITH A SETBACK BY … Every single player deals with this, whether injury, performance. You talk to the people you trust the most and get their feedback. You learn to build that trust in yourself to get back on your feet and go again. Hard to find but it’s what you need to do. As a younger person, I used to sulk and think about it for way longer that I should have. But now, with more experience, I acknowledge the setback and say, ok, how am I going to deal with this?

DO YOU EVER THINK ABOUT LIFE AFTER RUGBY? I get asked this a fair bit at the moment because I have a mentor. I tend to put all I can into rugby at the moment and then whatever I do after rugby, I will put everything into that. My mentor is well used to me. He tries to meet. I don’t want to concentrate on it. I say: let’s back that up just for now! It’s Six Nations now, I am fully invested in that. And when that’s over, I’ll be invested in the next thing.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS? Pretty much, on to the next thing. If you have won, you are excited, but you replay the game back fairly quickly, as you are walking around. Where was I in trouble, what did I do wrong?

DID YOU EVER CONSIDER ANOTHER CAREER? If I’d had a chance to play NFL, I’d have given that a go. Back in New Zealand, I wouldn’t ever have watched or played golf but I have played a few times. I suck at it! I really wish I was good at golf. Some of the boys on the squad are brilliant.

WHAT QUALITIES WOULD YOU LIKE TO PASS ON TO YOUR CHILDREN? Loyalty. In life, to get respect, you must show respect. Whatever you do, whether minding a pet, playing rugby, whatever, do it 100 per cent, the whole time. You won’t know what your limits are if you don’t give it 100 per cent.

Intersport Elverys proudly continues its partnership with Irish rugby icon Bundee Aki, now spanning over nine years. Together, they aim to inspire a more active nation in 2024 by being at the heart of sport, no matter your ability. Bundee Aki brings his personal experiences to the forefront – how he keeps motivated and encourages us all to embrace being active.


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