Monday 5 December 2016

Leinster derby the perfect time for Kiwi star Bleyendaal to repay Munster's faith

Published 07/10/2016 | 02:30

Tyler Bleyendaal is showing signs he could play a big part in Munster’s season. Picture credit: Sportsfile
Tyler Bleyendaal is showing signs he could play a big part in Munster’s season. Picture credit: Sportsfile

There is a reason why Munster have been so patient with Tyler Bleyendaal, and while his injury profile has been frustrating, he is slowly beginning to show signs that he is capable of repaying the faith that the province have shown in him.

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Since he suffered a career-threatening neck injury two years ago, Bleyendaal's progress has very much been gradual but his performances this season have been promising.

Being named your country's U-20 captain is a good indication of how highly a player is regarded, and when that country is New Zealand, it only accelerates the level of expectation.

Bleyendaal has yet to live up to the potential that once promised so much but at 26, time is still on his side.

Outstanding

The out-half was outstanding and was the tournament's top points scorer when he captained a rampant New Zealand side to the 2010 Junior World Cup.

A quick glance at some of the All Blacks graduates from the team leaves a sense of what might have been for Bleyendaal.

Julian Savea was the top try scorer for the U-20s in Argentina in 2010 and he repeated the trick in last year's World Cup, when he was sensational for the All Blacks. The likes of Tawera Kerr-Barlow have also gone on to win several caps.

The conveyor belt of talent in New Zealand is relentless and Bleyendaal found his path to the next level blocked by the likes of Dan Carter, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, while Lima Sopoaga has arrived on the scene now as well.

It was time for a new challenge elsewhere, and Munster's recruitment of him seemed like an excellent piece of business.

Playing alongside Carter for the Crusaders has undoubtedly aided his development and although when he arrived in Ireland, he wasn't ruling out a return to play for his home country, the odds are now firmly stacked against him.

Instead, he may well turn his attention to representing Ireland. Bleyendaal was signed as a 'project player' and will be eligible to play for Ireland from January 2018.

Had his arrival not been delayed by three months due to the neck injury, he would have been available for selection in next year's autumn series.

"This is a club with such a proud history and it is a brilliant opportunity for me to gain some international experience," he said prior to his arrival.

Any international thoughts are likely to now be firmly to one side, however, as he focuses his attention on continuing his run of fitness.

Munster themselves will have a decision to make next year as Bleyendaal's contract winds down but he is certainly good enough to earn an extension. Whether his body will enable him to do so is an entirely different matter.

Twenty-one months since arriving in Ireland, Bleyendaal has played just nine games for Munster but he has worn the No 10 jersey in four of his side's five games this season as a wave of cautious optimism returns down south.

"He is not a piece of meat", Anthony Foley previously said and that is still certainly the attitude that is being adopted by Munster's brains thrust.

Playing just one full 80 minutes proves that he is still being carefully managed by Rassie Erasmus but the serious neck and subsequent quad issue that flared up last January appear to have now eased.

The quad injury he suffered turned out to be a much more complex problem than first thought and the further 12 weeks he faced out was the last thing he needed.

The highly regarded former Crusaders coach and current Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder said of Bleyendaal: "Tyler is a talented player with an incredible brain.

"He has one of the best rugby brains I've ever come across, and that will take him far."

High praise indeed from a man who for so long had Carter pulling the strings for him at out-half but Blackadder himself would admit now that he would have expected Bleyendaal's career to have taken more of an upward curve.

Bleyendaal had been on Munster's radar for a while before he was eventually lured to Ireland but the time has come for him to give something back to the province after they stuck by him through the dark days.

Tomorrow's game against Leinster gives the Christchurch native an ideal opportunity to properly announce his arrival on the big stage.

In the corresponding fixture last season, another out-half did just did when up against Johnny Sexton at the Aviva, but sadly for Johnny Holland, injury has ended his promising career.

For so long Bleyendaal's career has threatened to go the same way but the undoubted class that he had six years ago still remains.

In full flow, Bleyendaal is a joy to watch, especially how he makes the game look easy. He has missed just two shots at goal this season (16/18) while his relationship with Conor Murray will have Munster supporters purring with excitement but again, it is optimism of the cautious nature.

Erasmus spoke earlier this season about how Bleyendaal has finally broken down the "mental barrier" that had stunted his returns but the director of rugby was also quick to say: "A part of me always goes on the cautious side of things with him."

Players are managed up and down the country and if it is done correctly, it shouldn't be a problem for Erasmus but he needs his first-choice out-half fit and firing for the crucial period ahead.

Once heralded as New Zealand's next bright young thing, Bleyendaal's journey has taken him down a different path but if his body allows him, there is still time to forge a successful career.

After all, class is permanent.

Irish Independent

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