Bleyendaal happy to step up leadership role with Munster
TYLER Bleyendaal has admitted he is taking on more off-field responsibility as he enters into his fifth full season as a Munster player.
Already comfortable in his own skin once he crosses the white line onto the field of battle, the Christchurch native is taking on more of a leadership role under Johann van Graan’s stewardship.
“As a 10, you’re an on-field leader automatically. Off the field, I think definitely I’ve had to step up. There’s been a definite uptake, it makes you appreciate what the other guys are doing. From our leadership group, when they’re in the squad in Limerick,” Bleyendaal remarked recently.
“It makes you busy. You’re doing a lot outside of the rugby schedule with the coaching, the management staff. Trying to be the bridge between the players and management. On the field, it’s work as usual. Work hard, try to make the best impression for myself to stay in the team as long as possible.”
In the absence of Ireland international Joey Carbery – and the summer departures of Ian Keatley and Bill Johnston to Benetton and Ulster, respectively – Bleyendaal and JJ Hanrahan are the two recognised fly-halves within Munster’s senior squad.
Both men featured in the starting line-up for the impressive PRO14 win over the Dragons last Saturday – Bleyendaal slipping back to inside centre in order to accommodate Hanrahan’s selection at half-back.
The Kerry man was on kicking duties throughout this clash at Thomond Park, though Bleyendaal did cross over for a second half try.
“I love to take on that responsibility, lead from the front. But it’s about performance in my position as well. It can’t be purely leadership in a rugby performance. JJ is there playing great footy, training really well.
“We have some great young talent coming in the 10 position. We’re going to battle it out and if I get my opportunity, it’s exciting. I’m going to relish that opportunity, and try and make it my own.”
Despite being born and raised in New Zealand – he was a World Rugby U20 Championship winner in 2010 – Bleyendaal acknowledges he held Stephen Larkham in considerable esteem during his childhood.
Now that he is getting to work under the Australian legend (Munster’s new senior coach for the 2019-20 season), he is hoping that his experience can help him to develop further as a player.
“He’s been in a month now. Obviously, there was a lot of anticipation from him being named as coach to when he arrived. We’re excited. Myself, I watched him a lot when I was a young kid. He was a world class player and he also had a lot success as a coach as well. He’s brought a lot of new ideas, new concepts in the four weeks.
“It’s been challenging, which is what the group needed, I think. We’re just excited to try and play the games now and see how we can develop further. There’s a few tips there. General phase kicking, maybe positioning, but I think as the season goes on I’ll be picking his brain about decision making, reading games and the quality of decisions.”
Despite being a firm favourite with the Munster fans, Bleyendaal’s time in Ireland has been beset by injuries. Originally signed to a three-year contract in November 2014, it wasn’t until the following September that he made his competitive debut – a PRO12 clash with Benetton in Cork.
This coincided with Ireland’s last World Cup campaign and, now that he has a full pre-season behind him, he believes he is in a good place for the new campaign.
“I can’t believe it was back that far, it’s almost flown by and hard to remember back! It’s just great. Being fit, healthy. Getting a lot of training done and, as you say, I’m four years on from that point. Pretty comfortable in the environment.”
Next up for Munster is the now-familiar Tour of South Africa – starting with today’s encounter with Southern Kings at Port Elizabeth. A trip to Bloemfontein for a round three affair against the Toyota Cheetahs awaits six days later.
“From a player’s point of view, the travel and that, it’s not that big a deal. It’s actually the excitement of going away on a tour. Obviously I’ve got the Super Rugby background, where we toured South Africa every year. It’s important for us to do well over there.”