Monday 23 July 2018

'Getting myself available for selection is priority'

Neck injury has halted out-half's progress as he nears time to take international call

Munster water carrier Tyler Bleyendaal. Picture: Sportsfile
Munster water carrier Tyler Bleyendaal. Picture: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Having watched Bundee Aki make an instant impact in an Ireland jersey, Tyler Bleyendaal could be next in line to make the step up when he becomes eligible in the New Year.

But a return from injury is to the forefront of his thoughts before he aims to wrestle back control of the Munster out-half berth next.

The red No 10 jersey, has become one of the most sought-after positions in the match-day squad, with Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan battling it out in recent weeks.

But Rory Scannell and Bill Johnston are both talented replacements in that slot too, and it leaves Bleyendaal (27) with a massive job on his hands when he returns to full fitness.

"I had to battle with Dan Carter, Tom Taylor and Colin Slade when I was at Crusaders. But this is the most competition I've ever faced in my time here in Munster," says Bleyendaal.

"It's an interesting one. We all just get along. We go ahead with our business, make plans and do all that stuff together. Selection is out of our control. We go out there and run the game as best as possible.

"You just make sure you are always sharp and work on your own individual skill-sets. How you are executing them is what's important on the day. It's great because it means you do have competition and depth. It is going to help Munster along this season."

Munster signed Bleyendaal at the beginning of the 2014-'15 season, but a neck injury hindered his involvements early on, and he didn't begin to bed in in Limerick until January 2015.

A recent persistent neck complaint has halted his progress further after three tries in 37 appearances for Munster over the past three seasons.

But the former New Zealand U-20 Junior World Cup-winning captain and Christchurch native insists this particular injury is nothing to be worried about and he can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.

"I am on the mend at the minute but I feel like I am improving a lot. More recently it has been a lot better. It should not be too far away whether that's this week or next week. It's going in the right direction," says Bleyendaal.

"I was just taking knocks in games and it was irritable by the neck joint there. It has just taken a while to get everything sorted and to get back into the contact.

"In the level of seriousness it wasn't too worrying. It was just a frustratingly slow injury. It was just that there was no timetable for the injury to repair. You have to wake up and see how it's going all the time. We were confident it was going to get right it was just about being patient.

priority "It's a busy and important time of year and an exciting time. Getting myself available for selection is going to be my main priority. I'm just aiming for that now.

"In terms of Munster, to see the ten or 11 guys involved in the November Tests it forces us to bleed in the new crop. That's great because across the board, from front-rowers to the back three and everywhere in between.

"It's good to see the young guys getting the opportunity. We see it in training every day but it's good to see them getting minutes on the pitch now. It can only be good for Munster Rugby."

And even since Bleyendaal's last game against Castres in the Champions Cup on October 15, there has been plenty of change in Munster's High Performance Centre, where Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have returned to South Africa. Johaan van Graan has come in to take the reins while Andy Farrell is in on a temporary basis as defence coach.

"The guys did such a great job before they left and it's just going to take time to adjust. I really enjoyed them as a coaching duo and they complemented each other really well. We all really miss them but we will move on and have a great time with Johann," says Bleyendaal.

"It's been a very smooth transition, all that's changed is that Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones have taken a bit more responsibility in the meeting rooms. There is just one less voice around but otherwise as players we will get on with things and not too much has changed.

"I am excited personally and as a group we are really excited. Johann spent six years at the Springboks coaching international players. He seems like a real people person. He is going to really care about this group at Munster. With his tactical knowledge at the moment, he is great."

And after Chris Farrell established himself as a real option for Joe Schmidt in Ireland's midfield during last month's internationals, while Andrew Conway and Darren Sweetnam did so well on the wings, it would be foolish of Bleyendaal not to dream about what might lie ahead in a green jersey.

But while he remains on the comeback trail, his only focus is Munster Rugby, and if the Ireland call-up comes down the road he will take it in his stride.

"I become eligible to play for Ireland at the end of January, so from February onwards I can play.

"I was in camp there a couple of months ago and it was good to be up there but the Six Nations isn't the place to throw any player in," says Bleyendaal.

"Whether I am eligible or not, selection is a different issue. If I am not playing for Munster nothing is going to happen.

"First things first, I need to get back here and try and bang out a few games for Munster. If it happens, it might not happen straight away but it's exciting all the same."

Irish Independent

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