Bundee Aki can still have a “massive” influence on Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand even under suspension, according to forwards coach Simon Easterby.
The Connacht centre 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 or not to appeal against the ban and will have 48 hours from receipt of the report to decide.
Aki will be 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 player 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 win over Samoa, with boss Joe Schmidt saying the player was “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 said of a possible appeal: “Until we’ve seen the report we don’t know what rolls into that decision.
“We’re disappointed because Bundee is a big part of the squad, so we’re disappointed for him.”
He added: “He’s nowhere near a dirty player. He was sanctioned on the day, and we lost him for a large chunk of the game.
“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.