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Tyler relieved to put injury hell behind him and go to war in derby clash

By Rauidhri O'Connor

Listening to Tyler Bleyendaal talk about Munster's performance levels against Leinster being "non-negotiable", it becomes clear that the New Zealander's leadership credentials are now firmly established.

He is deep into the third season of a frustrating stint in Ireland and only now are fans and team-mates really getting to know what kind of player the man schooled at Dan Carter's Christchurch Boys - and who went on to captain the New Zealand U-20s - can be. A year ago, he started against Leinster in Thomond Park during one of his attempted comebacks from injury and looked understandably tentative and sluggish as the province crashed to a dreaded home defeat to their rivals.

Within weeks he was injured again as questions were raised over whether Munster might ever see the best of the Kiwi.

On Monday, a different Bleyendaal will take the field at the same venue. Although not 100 per cent injury-free, this season he has had a solid run of games at No 10, and a more commanding figure has emerged.

Last week's blip at Welford Road aside, he has kicked well from hand and from the tee, while his decision-making has impressed as he grows his relationship with Conor Murray.

Since Ronan O'Gara retired, Munster fans have fretted over the position of out-half.

Ian Keatley has had his moments, JJ Hanrahan burned bright but left and Johnny Holland was forced to retire.

All the while, the man the late Anthony Foley signed on Rob Penney's recommendation was struggling to prove his fitness.

Bleyendaal was always meant to lead Munster's backline; now we're beginning to see why. And, as he grows in confidence, so his authority increases.

"That's non-negotiable, we have to up our intensity massively," he says of his team's need to improve from their defeat to Leicester Tigers when they take on Leinster.

"It wasn't where we needed it to be at Welford Road and we're going to have to improve that for sure.

"We had a great performance the week before and we didn't perform last weekend. We were beaten by a better Leicester team which is disappointing.

"We were building nicely, we had a good stretch of games and performances and, look, we just didn't turn up to the extent that we needed to.

"Then we still had a chance to win the game and that was even more disappointing that we felt we could have snatched the game at the end, but fair play to Owen Williams - he got the kick at the end.

"We'll be brutally honest. We have to fix certain aspects of our game and make big improvements because the challenge that Leinster will pose for us will be very similar, as well as their being a great attacking team too."

Understandably, Bleyendaal's focus is firmly on the future as he looks to put his years of injury problems behind him.

He arrived late in Ireland after suffering a career-threatening neck injury, and his comeback was thwarted by a subsequent quad problem that ruined last season.

People were beginning to give up on the man who was once talked of as a potential successor to Carter in a black jersey.

Now, his form is pointing towards him emerging as a rival to Johnny Sexton and Paddy Jackson when he qualifies to play for Ireland in 2018.

At the moment, he is just enjoying being fit and leading his team.

"I am enjoying being out there," he says.

"This game is special. You draw the calendar out and everyone looks at the Leinster matches home and away and we're lucky to have the home one on St Stephen's Day and in front of 26,000 people; it will be amazing."

Belfast Telegraph


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