Thursday 8 December 2016

Choices are not all black and white for exciting playmaker

Former Canterbury kicker thrilled to be back on the pitch after his neck injury nightmare

Daragh Small

Published 06/11/2015 | 02:30

Tyler Bleyendaal cheered on some of his former team-mates last weekend as New Zealand claimed a third World Cup success
Tyler Bleyendaal cheered on some of his former team-mates last weekend as New Zealand claimed a third World Cup success

There are some striking similarities between the 2010 World Rugby Junior Championships and the Rugby World Cup that we just witnessed the brilliant All Blacks claim last weekend.

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A great New Zealand team were crowned champions, they beat South Africa in the final four and hammered their closest rivals Australia in the deciders, they also topped Pool A each time.

Star winger, Julian Savea won the IRB Junior Player of the Year back then, but his team captain Tyler Bleyendaal was also a nominee.

Bleyendaal led the Baby Blacks to their third title in a row, and lit up the championships with his inspirational displays from out-half - he scored 28 points as his side romped to a 62-17 win over Australia in the final.

However, that was the only age-grade that the Christchurch native has ever donned the famous black jersey.

He cheered on from his new home in Limerick last weekend, as some of his former team-mates got to experience New Zealand's only World Cup victory on foreign soil.

At 25, Bleyendaal is fully aware that potential success is still ahead of him. He has not ruled out the possibility of one day returning to play with his Kiwi friends, but his adopted country is just as likely to acquire his services.

Injury has scuppered his chances at Munster so far, but he wants to focus on the here and now, before he nails his colour to the mast.

"It was good to see the All Blacks win the World Cup, I think they have been the form team for a while now. I don't think I was giving up on a chance to play with them when I came here, maybe postponing something, or just exploring other options.

"I am not expecting anything and obviously the quality of rugby that I play will have a big deciding factor in all of those opportunities. So I haven't closed any doors, but I might have opened a few as well.

"So I am just excited about what lies ahead. There is always an opportunity here too. Again it won't present itself if I am not playing well. So I am just going to focus on playing rugby for Munster in the short term," he said.

His Munster career nearly fell apart before it even started. But Bleyendaal was delighted with the support he received when he picked up a gruesome neck injury.

Munster had contacted his agent during pre-season with Crusaders, and when things went pear-shaped there, the former Shirley and Sydenham clubman had a re-think.

Focus

"I was still pretty keen on giving it a good crack in Canterbury. But as it happened I didn't take my opportunities, I wasn't getting a lot of game-time, so my focus shifted.

"And luckily they were still interested, and it just went from there. I saw it as a good opportunity to try something different for a few years and see what happened."

But a month later, disaster struck during an ITM Cup game for Canterbury against Waikato - Bleyendaal complained of a sore neck after the game and scans confirmed the worst.

"I basically had a prolapsed disc in my neck. It was more an accumulation I think. It wasn't one specific moment but basically it caused a lot of consistent pain. That was due to nerve damage so I had a disc fusion, and I have got a plate in my neck now.

"They try to give you a time-frame around the six-month mark. But as it happens it was just a monitoring process. When you get to a certain point, you are waiting for the bone graph to fuse up, to the point where it is solid.

"It was very frustrating and it wasn't great timing. It was only a month before I was supposed to leave. A lot of unknowns floated around my brain. I wondered would it all still happen.

"But Munster were great and very supportive. For them it was always a long-term thing. So they were happy to help me with my rehab programme and make sure that I was getting fit to play again. At the end of the day I am back fit now, so it is all going well."

Bleyendaal came from Christchurch Boys High School, following in a long line of great out-halves - Andrew Mehrtens, Aaron Mauger, Dan Carter, Stephen Brett and Colin Slade all came through the Canterbury nursery.

It was the ideal place to hone his rugby skills and continue his dream to play for the Canterbury Crusaders. Usually the next chapter involves pulling on the All Black jersey, but Bleyendaal could be set to buck that trend.

"I like the decision-making side of playing at No 10. And obviously kicking the ball, since I have been growing up it's something that I have enjoyed doing. And then I continued working on it, so it has always been a part of my game. Now I just love trying to solve problems and lead a team around the field.

"There was a few guys that went through my school and have gone all the way - Canterbury has produced many a good All Black.

"Rugby is the number one sport in New Zealand. The All Blacks are massive back home and when we were young, rugby was all we did. So from five or six I was playing rugby, and have played ever since.

"Right now I am just stoked to be playing rugby again. I probably trained every day of the week since I arrived in January without having that carrot of playing on the weekend.

"So to contribute now it's a great feeling, and there is plenty to look forward to as the season heats up."

Irish Independent

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