Bundee Aki can still have a “massive” influence on Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand even under suspension, according to Simon Easterby.
Connacht centre Aki was hit with a three-week ban that will end his World Cup in a disciplinary hearing on Monday, following his red card against Samoa.
Ireland are waiting for the full written judgement before weighing up whether to appeal against the ban, and will have 48 hours from receipt of the report to decide.
Aki will able able to train fully with the squad even if ruled out of Saturday’s last-eight battle in Tokyo, leaving forwards coach Easterby to insist the New Zealand-born powerhouse still has a big role to play in preparations.
“It can be massive that he’s still able to train,” said Easterby.
“He’s a good trainer anyway, but he’ll be focused on doing everything he can now.
“There’s no better man for knowing how the Kiwis work and how they might be approaching this.
“He’s a big part of this group and he’ll continue to be part of it no matter the outcome.”
Aki was sent off for a high tackle on UJ Seuteni in the 29th minute of Ireland’s 47-5 Pool A clash with Samoa, with boss Joe Schmidt branding him “devastated” with the dismissal.
Ireland flew out lawyer Derek Hegarty to act for Aki in Monday’s disciplinary hearing in Tokyo, but the independent panel still imposed a three-week suspension.
That will rule Aki out of the rest of the tournament, unless Ireland can launch a successful appeal.
Former Ireland flanker Easterby admitted Ireland will continue to hold fire on an appeal until they receive and can digest the full report.
“Until we’ve seen the report we don’t know what rolls into that decision,” said Easterby, of a possible appeal
“We’re disappointed because Bundee is a big part of the squad, so we’re disappointed for him.
“He’s nowhere near a dirty player. He was sanctioned on the day, and we lost him for a large chunk of the game.
“So we’re disappointed with lots of different things, but mainly for Bundee.
“We’re lucky that we have a real good group of players in that midfield, but he’s one of those and we’d be disappointed if we don’t get to use him.
“He was really upset about the decision and rightfully so.
“But until we’ve seen the report and know exactly how they came to that decision, we’ll probably have to wait until we see that before we make a call.”
Robbie Henshaw shook off his hamstring injury just in time to start Ireland’s bonus-point win over Samoa in Fukuoka, easing off some ring rustiness through that seven-try victory.
The British and Irish Lions star’s recovery has been perfectly timed in light of Aki’s suspension, leaving Easterby to admit head coach Schmidt’s men have to prepare to take on the back-to-back world champion All Blacks without one of their top stars at this point.
“I guess in terms of a decision to select two guys in midfield this week, with Bundee currently out of the equation it means that Robbie coming back to fitness was great timing,” said Easterby.
“Neither Garry Ringrose nor Chris Farrell played so they will be fresh too.
“So we’re fortunate that the medics and Robbie worked so hard to get him back up to speed.
“I guess at the moment we have to (prepare without Aki), partly due to the time it could take.
“We like to have as much clarity as possible early in the week. It’s now Tuesday, we had travel yesterday so we were a little limited in terms of time on the pitch.
“We’ve been here before, but at the moment you have to take the course of action that Bundee won’t be available.”