JOHANN VAN GRAAN admits Munster remain conservative in their handling of Tyler Bleyendaal’s reintegration back into full contact training, as the Kiwi continues his comeback from neck surgery.
Bleyendaal underwent a second procedure on his neck last March and while Munster expected him to make a full recovery in time for the start of the upcoming season, he is still being monitored by the province’s medical team.
The 28-year-old, whose arrival at Munster back in 2015 was delayed due to a similar problem, suffered the injury during the Champions Cup draw with Castres last October, and then sustained a relapse two games into his return in February.
Bleyendaal has been present throughout Munster’s pre-season sessions at their University of Limerick base in recent weeks, but remains a number of weeks away from being involved.
“Tyler is a quality individual,” Van Graan says. “He’s a very important player in the cog of our wheel at Munster. We’re going to give him as much time as possible to recover from his operation.
“He is in a very positive mind space but we are very conservative with Tyler. He had a neck operation and we’re just taking it day by day. I envisage it will still be quite a few weeks before he is on the field. As soon as we have a definite update on when he will play, we will give that. At this stage, we are just taking it day by day.”
Bleyendaal’s continued absence leaves Van Graan with three out-halves at his disposal for Friday’s pre-season friendly against London Irish on Musgrave Park’s newly-laid 3G pitch, while Joey Carbery will come into contention later next month.
Carbery, one of five new signings made by the province, linked up with his new team-mates for a training camp at Fota Island last week, and has already made a big impression on Van Graan.
The Munster head coach yesterday insisted he did not convince the 22-year-old to leave Leinster at the end of last season, but instead sold him the dream to come and play in his preferred position at Thomond Park.
Van Graan, clearly excited by the attributes Carbery brings to the pivot, insisted the Ireland international is a long-term option for Munster, and not a stop-gap measure until Johnny Sexton vacates the number 10 jersey at Leinster.
“I sold him the dream of Munster and where we want to go,” the South African said. “It’s something that he found appealing and that’s why he came to Munster, I believe.
“He signed for two years to come to Munster. He’s got a contract the same as every other player at Munster. Hopefully he’ll still here for a very, very long time.
“Like all players, it’s up to the people at Munster to make sure that people are happy and I have said that from day one.
“If players and management are happy, they’ll stay at the place where they believe they can live their dreams and I believe he is one of them.”
Do you see him as an out-half, though?
“Most definitely. That’s why we got him, as a 10. We’ve got multiple options at 10 and that’s what I like.
“He also doesn’t come with the expectation of being the starting 10. He knows he needs to earn that position and that was evident from day one in the fitness test.
“Like all of the players, he fought for that single metre right at the end. He can obviously play at 15, but I see him as a 10.”
Conor Murray and CJ Stander have already spoken about the difference Carbery can make at Munster, and with the province searching for their first trophy since 2011, Van Graan agrees he can help his side bridge the gap after two semi-final defeats last term.
“I think he’s got the ability to play flat and deep. I was very impressed with him in that Test in Australia,” he added. “His decision making, you know, he took a big hit early in that game and he got up. And to me that is the most important thing.
“Like I said, he seems to have a very, very good head on his shoulders. He is a guy that is calm, composed under pressure. He looks you in the eye and even the way he took control of training sessions.
“That being said, the way he fitted in with the other 10s in our squad, I think that’s the most important thing at Munster. It’s the dynamic of the team. The team always comes first. He slotted in very well in his first few weeks.”
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