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Dublin: 1 °C Saturday 25 November, 2017
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Brilliant Bleyendaal typifies Munster attitude in most tragic season

‘As a rugby team, we had the responsibility and privilege to galvanise the town.’

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IN ANY OTHER year, a season where actual matters of life and death, true sorrow and mourning did not overshadow all, we might all have looked at Tyler Bleyendaal’s tale as the overarching story of Munster’s return to prominence.

In this campaign, it’s a mere footnote, but the strand of the southern province’s story is well worth unraveling again before Bleyendaal takes the reins for Munster’s Pro12 Grand Final against Scarlets.

“To be playing regularly on a weekly basis is just massively exciting and it helps everything. It helps enjoying life in general,” Bleyendaal says with a nod to his extended stint sidelined by neck and quad injuries that limited him to just five caps between signing for Munster in 2014 and the start of the current campaign.

“Being able to contribute on the field was a massive thing, when injured and not playing  and you’re only training, it can get frustrating.

“Look, I’m so happy to be playing and to 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 wearing the blue jersey I think it will be an awesome experience.

“And you never know when you get another chance at play-off rugby, and 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.”

Bleyendaal, 26, is well capable of putting rugby in its rightful place in a list of priorities. He comes from a city that was literally shook in 2011 by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that killed 185 people and devastating Christchurch city’s infrastructure for years to come.

I was in the Crusaders squad when the earthquakes happened. 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 responsibility 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.”

“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.”

Tyler Bleyendaal is tackled by Ma'a Nonu Bleyendaal evades Ma'a Nonu in 2013. Source: Photosport/INPHO

There were clear parallels to be found between Munster and Canterbury long before Bleyendaal swapped one red shirt for another: the weather, their disconnect from the capital to the north, the forward-driven ethos.  Anthony Foley was no earthquake, yet his untimely death certainly moved a city, a province, a country and an entire rugby community.

“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. I think that helped us get through that period, which I hope no one ever has to go through.”

Constrained

Bleyendaal was a committed Munster man when they last entered a Pro12 final, just two short years ago against Glasgow Warriors in Belfast. It was Foley’s first season at the helm, Paul O’Connell’s final game and  the Kiwi was just a few months in the country with the end of his injury troubles still a long way down the track.

That past is so recent, yet somehow feels light years removed from the Munster outfit that topped the Pro12 and go to Dublin this week to meet the Scarlets.

Bleyendaal is still not immune to injuries, he has worried fans with knocks in the latter stage of this season, but he rides through the bumps and bruises by brushing them off as just that. The talented out-half won’t be constrained by his medical history.

“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 all that stuff. You go out and throw your body into every battle every weekend and hope you come out the right side of that.”

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