Sport Rugby

Saturday 17 August 2019

Van Graan: I specifically re-signed 'great man' Bleyendaal for weeks just like this

Munster's Tyler Benendaal during squad training at University of Limerick. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Munster's Tyler Benendaal during squad training at University of Limerick. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Tyler Bleyendaal's body might have robbed him of the best of his Munster years, but his mind has remained willing.

During his long, frustrating absence from the first team with his latest neck problem the New Zealander has remained a central figure in the province's set-up.

He'd regularly be used as a waterboy-cum-sideline runner, getting messages from the coaching booth to the pitch with the desired clarity.

In match-preparation meetings his voice is regularly heard regardless of whether he's playing at the weekend or not.

Eyebrows were raised when Munster announced his new contract last month and there were some suggestions that the 28-year-old Kiwi out-half would be taking on additional coaching responsibilities from next season.

Yet, on Saturday, he will be a pivotal on-pitch figure as Johann van Graan's men look to end an 11-year wait for a European final.

In the quarter-final, he replaced Joey Carbery before half-time and put his body on the line regardless of the consequences.

When Rhys Marshall's crucial lineout sailed over Tadhg Beirne's hands it was Bleyendaal (right) who pounced.

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A few minutes later, he nailed a sublime touchline conversion.

Now, in Carbery's absence, he is set to start against Saracens once again; two years after he had his most difficult day in red. Munster have faith.

"Tyler was one of the first people I met when I came here in two years ago," Van Graan recalled.

"His composure and his calmness impressed me straight away, he is a very consistent guy. Whether injured or not, he gives the same amount of input every week.

"He sits in on every meeting and he is just one of those guys in the team that is a real energy-giver.

"He doesn't say that much, but what he says has got some real value and he is a massive influence.

"There was a lot of questions asked as to why I re-signed him. It is specifically for weeks like this.

"He is a great man, a very good rugby player, he understands the game and I think we are very lucky to have him."

His latest absence ended when he came back for Munster 'A' against Leinster in October, but it took time for him to find form and show confidence in his healed body.

Although JJ Hanrahan deputised while Carbery was flying high with the first team, Van Graan kept Bleyendaal involved and he captained the team on several occasions and built his way towards full fitness.

When the time came to put his neck on the line, he didn't think twice.

"I have never had a neck injury, but to go through what he has gone through, I don't think everyone understands how tough it really is and it takes time," Van Graan said.

"Everything takes time, but from a neck and a bigger injury that's very serious.

"He fought his way back, like I said, in his own quiet way, from running on the sidelines to start making contact, I remember when he started hitting hit shields with (defence coach) JP (Ferreira) and our strength and Conditioning team to where now he makes a lot of big contributions.

"In the Edinburgh game, if you look at the amount of tackles that he made in that five minutes that we defende . . . it's brilliant to have him and great to have three fit fly-halves at this stage. I thought JJ played really well over the weekend."

Conor Murray recently said that the players regularly wind their out-half up about his capacity to one day coach the All Blacks, but there is serious respect for his rugby smarts.

"He's incredibly intelligent. He's one of these guys who could go straight into coaching if you asked him today," Rory Scannell said.

"He's very calm in the way he delivers his messages, even on the pitch when there's those tense moments.

"There might be a score in it in a big European match and he just sticks with the process, sticks to our game-plan.

"He helps calm the guys around him as well and when you see that in your main playmaker it helps keep you calm as well.

"His rugby knowledge is pretty good, having him alongside you is always a benefit and I try and be his ears and feed him the info.

"The last few games he's been incredible, it's great to see him back firing at his best since he's had a few injuries."

Two seasons ago, Bleyendaal rolled into the Saracens semi-final in the best form of his Munster career and things didn't go well.

Saturday offers an unexpected shot at redemption.

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