Wednesday 21 February 2018

Excited Bleyendaal eager to deliver silverware for supporters

Ian Keatley and Simon Zebo of Munster during Munster Rugby squad training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Ian Keatley and Simon Zebo of Munster during Munster Rugby squad training at the University of Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Few people better know the tight bond that exists between the Munster squad and their supporters than out-half Tyler Bleyendaal.

After all, he has watched more games with them in the stands than he has actually played.

"One-hundred per cent," a smile beaming from beneath a baseball cap where once there appeared just a furrowed, fretted brow.

"I think they've felt that we're back to the old ways and they've supported us incredibly well. We'd love nothing more than to give some silverware back to our supporters."

Bleyendaal's injury travails have been lengthy and lengthily recounted.

The former New Zealand U20 captain originally signed from Canterbury in 2014 but did not arrive in Ireland until January 2015 following a serious neck injury and had to wait until the following September to make his Munster debut.

A leech-like quad injury then intervened and restricted Bleyendaal to just five appearances last season before, fully fit, he exploded from his frustrated seat in the stands to position himself at the fulcrum everything Munster have done in this whirlwind season.

The 26-year-old, who once had too much time on his hands off the pitch, now plays with the freedom of one who wallows in every single moment.

"To be playing regularly on a weekly basis is just massively exciting and it helps everything," the Irish Independent Munster Rugby Player of the Season says.

"It helps enjoying life in general. Injuries can sometimes be pretty frustrating. Last year, individually and as a team we were struggling and the difference from last year to this year, it's massive.

"Being able to contribute on the field was a massive thing. When you're injured and not playing - only training - it can get frustrating.

"I'm so happy to be playing and have had as many opportunities as I've had. Every time I get to run out wearing the Munster red it's very special, this weekend we're wearing the blue jersey and it will be an awesome experience.

"You never know when you get another chance at play-off rugby, especially a final. It's a combination of so much hard work over a pretty long season and I'm just so excited to be involved."

He has had niggles, minor concerns this season, but the mental toughness forged during those long months out of action have minimised the damage they can do to his confidence.

"You just take it as it happens. The neck injury originally, that's out of the blue, you can't help that.

"And then the quad injury itself, I don't think it gives you a label of an injury history or becoming nervous about all that stuff.

"But you go out and throw your body into every battle every weekend and hope you come out the right side of that."

Perspective helps; Munster's tragic days intervened to bind the squad even tighter this term; as a fledgling Cantabrian, Bleyendaal experienced the trauma of the earthquake that destroyed 185 lives in 2011.

"It was more a case of the whole city was affected. We lost our home ground, we lost material things and there were families affected that had personal loss as well.

"As a rugby team then we had the responsibly and the privilege to galvanise the town. We were what they could get some joy out of in a pretty tough time and you've just got to find that focus within your group.

"We do what we love as a group every day and sometimes you just get on with that job and it's almost a distraction, and it's a good one at that."

A similar healing has charged through the squad like an electric current since October.

"From the beginning of the pre-season when Axel was here, the coaching group were very much aligned and we were building towards what we have now.

"So when that tragedy occurred and Axel passed we were already together, already a tight group.

"The way Rassie led us and took all the heat off us with the media, the way he handled things, it allowed us to go about our business. We didn't know how we were going to react.

"I don't think anyone knows how you're going to respond to a tragedy like that. But as we got through the first game and all the emotion we had a good eight- or nine-match stretch where we just gave it everything.

"And I think again, that's just reaffirmed what we're built on, that hard work and the no-nonsense stuff. That helped us get through that period, which I hope no-one ever has to go through. We've been strong together."

He will form another strong union a week after the final, when he gets married. "A busy schedule!" Beats enforced idleness any day.

Irish Independent

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