Tuesday 26 September 2017

'November could be a stretch' - Luke Fitzgerald on the international future of Munster star Tyler Bleyendaal

Edinburgh , United Kingdom - 3 February 2017; Tyler Bleyendaal of Munster during the Guinness PRO12 Round 13 match between Edinburgh and Munster at Myreside in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Edinburgh , United Kingdom - 3 February 2017; Tyler Bleyendaal of Munster during the Guinness PRO12 Round 13 match between Edinburgh and Munster at Myreside in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Munster will play their first European knockout game since 2014 this Saturday and out-half Tyler Bleyendaal is a big reason why the southern province are back competing with the elite after two seasons outside the top eight.

The Kiwi import endured an injury-plagued start to life with Munster, with a neck injury claiming one campaign while a quad injury hampered him in his second.

Read more: 'I always flirted with them': Luke Fitzgerald on how he almost ended up playing for Munster - twice

However, after getting fit and staying fit in year three, the ex-Crusaders playmaker has shown people why Anthony Foley wanted to bring him to Thomond Park in the first place.

It was Bleyendaal who set the tone in the emotional win over Glasgow to start Munster's Champions Cup journey this season, just one day after Foley was laid to rest.

The 26-year-old scored the opening try, which has been a springboard for a very impressive season for the number ten. He leads Munster into battle against Toulouse on Saturday evening, and while his focus will be solely on club duty at the moment, an international career could beckon if he continues this run of form.

Bleyendaal will become Irish qualified in November, with many tipping him to be capped in the autumn, which will add another contender into the battle for the number ten jersey.

Speaking on this week's episode of The Left Wing, Luke Fitzgerald praised the Munster out-half, but added that he still needs to develop his game a bit more before he challenges Johnny Sexton.

"He has had a great year, and he has been injury free, that's important for me," Fitzgerald said.

"He looks like he has benefited from that. His tackling is a big thing for him, and is something that has been noticed down there. What I like is that he doesn't try anything too fancy. He has a decent kicking game, he is a nice handler of the ball. Do I think he is in the same league as Johnny? I don't think he is yet.

"Do I think he could be? He has all the attributes to be. Johnny is a little bit crisper and I think his kicking game is definitely a lot better. There is a bit of journey to go if he wants to get that number ten jersey for Ireland."

And as for a possible cap this autumn, Fitzgerald thinks that Bleyendaal made need to prove himself at club level for a bit longer before Joe Schmidt picks him in his Ireland team.

"November could be a stretch because he won't have played any rugby in the summer," Fitzgerald said.

"I think he might be brought into the camp to see what it's all about but I think the Six Nations, if he has a good run of games, could be a more realistic expectation."

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