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'He's incredibly intelligent' - Bleyendaal primed to guide Munster from 10

The 28-year-old New Zealand native has been through a torrid time with injuries.

WHEN THE42 WAS in New Zealand in 2016 ahead of Ireland’s now-famous win over the All Blacks in Chicago, we were struck by the number of people who asked about Tyler Bleyendaal.

In Christchurch Boys’ High School, they rated him as one of the best – in a list of genuine world-class stars – to have come through their ranks.

A prominent Super Rugby coach who has coached multiple All Blacks said Bleyendaal possessed perhaps the most intelligent rugby brain he had come across.

Tyler Bleyendaal Bleyendaal is set to start at 10 on Saturday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Several other Kiwi rugby folk asked if the former Crusaders out-half would be playing for Ireland any time soon.

On these shores, Bleyendaal is similarly well-regarded by those who have worked closely with him since his arrival in January 2015.

Anthony Foley was a huge fan of the out-half, having been involved in a previous bid to bring Bleyendaal to the province before his actual move, and consistently backing the playmaker to come through serious neck and quad injuries.

Rassie Erasmus rated Bleyendaal too, while Joe Schmidt called him into an Ireland training camp in 2017 – who knows how that might have developed but for further injury travails since?

The current Munster boss, Johann van Graan, didn’t hesitate in handing Bleyendaal a new contract extension in February, keeping him at the province until at least June 2021. 

It’s fair to say that some eyebrows were raised when Munster confirmed that re-signing of Bleyendaal, who played only seven times for the province last season as he battled back from a second serious neck injury. 

With Joey Carbery sidelined due to a hamstring injury, Bleyendaal is now set to line out in Munster’s number 10 shirt for the biggest day of their season so far, the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens on Saturday.

“One of the first people that I actually met when I came here in that first week of the Racing game, two years ago, he was one of the first guys that I met,” says van Graan of Bleyendaal.

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

Tyler Bleyendaal 15/10/2018 Bleyendaal is an influential figure in the Munster squad. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“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 at Munster Rugby.

“There was a lot of questions asked as to why I re-signed him and it is specifically for weeks like this. He is a great man, a very good rugby player, he understands the game of rugby and I think we are very lucky to have him.”

Bleyendaal was at out-half for Munster when they played Saracens at the semi-final stage of this competition two years ago, a disappointing day under Erasmus as the southern province played a negative style of rugby and lost on a 26-10 scoreline.

Bleyendaal, whose career was under threat just before joining Munster due to a neck issue, has since come through another career-threatening injury in his neck, building great resilience.

“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,” says van Graan.

“Guys that come back from knees and from shoulders, everything takes time, but from a neck and a bigger injury that’s very serious.”

“He fought his way back 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 S&C team to where now he makes a lot of big contributions.

“You speak about the Edinburgh [quarter-final] game, if you look at the amount of tackles that he made in that five minutes that we defended, so it’s brilliant to have him and great to have three fit fly-halves at this stage.”

Indeed, JJ Hanrahan’s superb outing against Benetton last weekend in the Pro14 was timely as Munster may require him to make an impact off the bench against Saracens in Coventry, while Bill Johnston continues to develop.

Tyler Bleyendaal Bleyendaal has previously trained with Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But 28-year-old Bleyendaal is likely to be the man at 10 from the off this weekend, tasked with guiding Munster around the pitch and showing the bravery, place-kicking composure and nous he offered off the bench against Edinburgh.

The Kiwi native will feel he still has the best of his career ahead of him, with a future in coaching surely awaiting thereafter.

“He’s incredibly intelligent,” says team-mate Rory Scannell, who is likely to be alongside Bleyendaal in Munster’s 12 shirt on Saturday. “He’s one of these guys who could go straight into coaching if you asked him today.

“He’s very calm in the way he delivers his messages, even on the pitch when there are 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 the guys around him calm 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 to 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.”

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Murray Kinsella

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