Sunday 15 September 2019

'I just have to wait my time and I'm sure I'll get my chance'

The Big Interview: Tyler Bleyendaal

Tyler Bleyendaal hard at work in training
Tyler Bleyendaal hard at work in training

Daragh Small

Tyler Bleyendaal made his European debut for Munster against Glasgow Warriors in October 2016. He went on to make eight Champions Cup appearances that season but he has only featured twice in the competition since.

Bleyendaal was originally due to sign for Munster in October 2014 but he picked up a neck injury playing for Canterbury in the ITM Cup.

He didn't arrive on these shores until late January the following year.

The former New Zealand U-20 captain got his career back on track at Munster, and aside from a quad problem things had gone relatively well.

It was in 2016-'17 when Bleyendaal really caught fire; he was voted Munster's Player of the Year and nominated for European Player of the Year.

But last season it was a recurrence of that neck disc injury that cost him dearly. He returned briefly but surgery cut that short.

Bleyendaal greeting Joey Carbery as he is substituted last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Bleyendaal greeting Joey Carbery as he is substituted last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

"Obviously with the neck specifically it's definitely not ideal for your career in general, but I was never in doubt that I was going to get back fit," says Bleyendaal.

"I was definitely contributing as much as I could to Munster when I was off. I was able to train for a good portion of that rehab period.

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"I was giving my all for the squad. I felt involved the whole way through which was nice.

"It was just about getting minutes on the pitch. That's what we all strive for. It's my goal at the moment and it's great to be available for selection.

"From the outside it might look worse. I was never in danger of having to stop playing rugby but it definitely gives you a fresh perspective. When you go out there you do have to enjoy it.

"I have definitely found that balance now. The hard work and stuff, you have to have the enjoyment factor with everything you do and that's training included.

"Then you put in all of that so you can go out and play in the big matches. That's the real enjoyment.

"A lot of patience was required. From the original injury, a disc injury was something I experienced previously and we tried to give it time to get back to a comfort level after playing.

Patience

"Obviously that didn't work out in the end so I had to get surgery. It was just a bit of patience and making sure that things were going to be alright for the long-term.

"It has worked out well from that point of view. I was confident coming back for that first game that there was going to be no issues.

"It was a long old summer but it's nice to be playing now."

The 28-year-old picked up the neck injury just before the hour mark in a Champions Cup tie against Castres at Stade Pierre-Fabre on October 15 last year.

He made two further appearances that season against Cardiff Blues and Glasgow Warriors, but his real comeback didn't take place until he captained Munster to victory over Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last month.

Bleyendaal has played against Zebre, Edinburgh and Castres since then. He is now just seven games short of the half ton for Munster.

"I am very happy to be back," he adds. "It was a long time coming but I am happy with the coaching and medical staff.

"They had a lot of patience and we went the right way about it," says Bleyendaal.

"It was just so nice to be on the pitch and contributing for Munster again."

But there has been no honorary handing over of the baton.

Since Bleyendaal's most recent setback Joey Carbery has arrived in Limerick and minutes are at even more of premium.

The battle for the No 10 shirt in Munster has never been so intense and Bleyendaal knows he needs to make the most of any opportunity he gets.

"The one position where we have five players fit and healthy.

"You can't argue with that and it is a great position for our squad to be in.

"I just have to wait my time and I'm sure I will get my chance down the track," says Bleyendaal.

"Joey's added a lot for us. He is a great young talent.

"He has got international experience. It is nice to have that on the park and we are enjoying having him here. He is very young, you forget how young he is.

"He has a got a lot more to give. For myself, it's all about getting back fit.

"It's going to be a contest to get those minutes. That's great for any squad in any position. I am definitely relishing that competition."

But Bleyendaal's versatility is a big advantage and he has already started at inside-centre twice since he came back in.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan is likely to chop and change during the interprovincial derbies over the festive period and Bleyendaal knows there is a big chance there.

Several Irish front-liners will have to be rested and that is going to present opportunities to a lot of players in Ireland.

"The interpros have come around super quick. This is going to be a tough game up in Belfast tonight," says Bleyendaal.

"Then it's a sold-out game against Leinster too which we all look forward to, it's not on December 26 for the first time in a while. It's going to be a huge match in front of our home crowd.

Massive

"Then we have Connacht away and it's massive even from a league perspective.

"Hopefully we gain some ground in our conference, we are aware of the importance of these games but hopefully we can go out and enjoy them as well."

It's one of the busiest times of the year for a professional rugby player in Ireland but life still goes on outside of the pitch, and Bleyendaal is looking forward to relaxing on Christmas Day with family.

"Traditionally, I wouldn't be a turkey man on Christmas, more of a barbeque and outdoors but I am adjusting slowly," adds Bleyendaal.

"I have got my wife's family and sisters over. We will have a nice quiet Christmas I guess.

"I have got a seven-month-old son now. It will be his first Christmas.

"We hosted everyone who are here without their family for the day last year and I am happy to pass that role onto someone else this year."

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