Tyler Bleyendaal may return for Munster’s Champions Cup quarter-final
Van Graan hopeful Kiwi will be available to face Toulon after return to training
Tyler Bleyendaal returned to training this week for the first time since being sidelined in October with an injury. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The 27-year-old Kiwi, Munster’s player of the year last season, has been out through injury since October but is now back in training and coach Johann van Graan is hopeful he will be back playing in the next few weeks.
Bleyendaal has made just 37 appearances since joining Munster over three years ago and suffered his latest setback in the Champions Cup draw away to Castres in October.
That troublesome neck injury came in his fifth appearance of the season, the same number of games he played when he finally made his debut in the 2015-16 campaign, almost a year after he was due to make his bow.
But Bleyendaal, who skipped New Zealand to the 2010 Junior World Cup in Argentina, showed his full array of skills last season in guiding Munster to the Champions Cup and Pro12 semi-finals.
His displays earned him the player of the season award in Munster and also saw him nominated for European player of the year.
“Tyler Bleyendaal is back in training, he’s taking limited contact,” said van Graan at the Munster High Performance Centre in Limerick yesterday.
“We hope to see him sometime in the next four weeks. I won’t say we’re out of the woods yet. We’re still taking it day by day like I said before.
“Obviously he’s our number one concern and he’s looking after himself very, very well and so are the medical team. It’s great to have him back at training, he’s a vibrant player.
“I just watched the Toulouse quarter-final of last year and the semi-final against Saracens and he’s a special player. It’ll be great to have him back later in the competition,” added van Graan.
Winger Andrew Conway has returned from national camp to Munster to rehab a knee injury which looks set to sideline him for a couple of weeks, while prop James Cronin has also returned and is expected to chalk up game time on Saturday against Zebre.
Another loosehead prop, Dave Kilcoyne, has gone in the opposite direction and linked up with the Ireland squad in Carton House after recovering from a knee injury picked up in the Champions Cup win over Castres.
Van Graan said that next Saturday’s Pro14 clash with Zebre and the other games during the Six Nations – they will be away to Cardiff and Edinburgh and at home to Glasgow – will give fringe players a big opportunity to stake claims for more regular inclusion.
And, of course, Munster and van Graan are boosted by the availability of the departing Simon Zebo for these games.
“Yeah Zeebs is available,” added van Graan. “We’ve just had a lot of one-on-ones with the players individually over the last few hours and we just had a look at his performance against Castres. You know he started off so well with all those high bombs and caught every single one of them, I thought his defence was very good obviously his broken field play, so it’s great to have him and if you look at our current backs there’s a lot of young guys so it will be great to have his leadership around.”
One player who could make his debut for Munster during the Six Nations is lock Gerbrandt Grobler. The South African, who served a suspension for doping before joining Munster during the summer, made his competitive debut for Munster A last month amidst a storm of debate about why he had been signed given his background.
Van Graan confirmed that the lock forward is available for selection.
“He’s available like he was the previous few weekends you know if we decide we select him he’s available.”