Tyler Bleyendaal forced to retire on medical grounds

By Simon Lewis

Tyler Bleyendaal at Munster Rugby Squad Training last November. Photo: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Tyler Bleyendaal at Munster Rugby Squad Training last November. Photo: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Tyler Bleyendaal has been forced to retire from rugby with immediate effect following a long struggle with neck injuries, Munster Rugby announced on Wednesday.

The New Zealand-born fly-half, who turns 30 on May 31, played 62 times for Munster but there should have been many more appearances for a player who captained the Junior All Blacks to victory in the 2010 Junior World Championship in Argentina.

“It has been very tough to be honest, to admit the fact that I’m retiring from rugby,” Bleyendaal told the Munster Rugby website.

“But the decision is out of my hands now, it’s a medical decision, and it's the right decision. It doesn't make it any easier because rugby is a massive part of my life, but I do know that I gave it absolutely everything.

“It’s the reason Laura and myself moved over to Ireland, literally the other side of the world, and I know I've been privileged to play for 10 years in professional rugby and I'm very grateful for all the experiences that I've had, the friendships, and the relationships that I've made over my time.

Tyler Bleyendaal in action against Stuart McInally and Bill Mata of Edinburgh during the Heineken Champions Cup Quarter-Final last year. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tyler Bleyendaal in action against Stuart McInally and Bill Mata of Edinburgh during the Heineken Champions Cup Quarter-Final last year. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

“It has to end at some point and unfortunately it wasn't on my terms but I’ve had the ability over lockdown to plan for the future and spend a lot of time with my family at home so there has been some pros to the timing.

“The cons are that I’m away from my teammates, and the guys that I’ve spent a lot of time with. I definitely miss those guys and the in-person relationships but at the same time there’s a lot to look forward to, it might just require a bit of patience until we find out what that is, and when it can happen.

“I want to thank the Munster supporters, they have been absolutely fantastic, and they are a massive reason why myself, and the whole team, love playing in front of our home crowd and our away supporters as well.

“It still amazes me the support we get at any location around the world, and I want to thank everyone for their support, the personal messages, and the support of the team.

“My wife Laura and I have been set up here in Limerick for over five years, we’ve a son, Bodhi, who just turned two, and we’ve another one on the way in a few months.

We plan on being around for the coming period and once rugby resumes, I'd love to be around to go watch a game as a spectator and say my goodbyes in person.

Bleyendaal, who made 20 Super Rugby appearances for the Crusaders, suffered a serious neck injury in October 2014 while with his native Canterbury province having announced his decision to move to Ireland and he spoke with gratitude about the faith then head coach, the late Anthony Foley, and the Munster organisation had shown in him to facilitate his transfer while still rehabilitating from surgery to correct a disc lesion.

Tyler Bleyendaal kicks a conversion against Ospreys last November. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Tyler Bleyendaal kicks a conversion against Ospreys last November. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

He arrived in Limerick in January 2015 and having passed a medical assessment made his first appearance in red for Munster A against Ulster Ravens that April.

Bleyendaal’s PRO12 debut came in Cork against Treviso in September 2015, followed by a first start against Ospreys the following week, only for a quad injury to sideline the Kiwi for most of the 15-16 campaign.

Bleyendaal really shone once he was fully fit in 2016-17 as he steered Munster to the Champions Cup and PR012 semi-finals, captaining the side for the first time and earning a two-year contract extension before going on to win the Munster Player of the Year award.

Yet a neck injury against Castres in October 2017 stymied his progress once more and a comeback in February 2018 was shortlived before Bleyendaal required surgery again.

Having played most of last season and seven times in 2019-20, his last game came on November 16 when he kicked three conversions and two penalties for 12 points in a Champions Cup pool win at Ospreys.

Tyler Bleyendaal leaves the pitch after Munster
Tyler Bleyendaal leaves the pitch after Munster's European Rugby Champions Cup Semi-Final loss to Saracens in 2017. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Munster head coach Johann van Graan said, “I saw Tyler for the first time playing for the Crusaders in Super Rugby and he caught my eye immediately. It was an absolute privilege to not only coach him but to learn more about him and discover what a fantastic rugby player and man he is. He has played a huge role for Munster Rugby, not only on the field but also off the field, and he will be sorely missed.

“It was a pleasure to coach him, and I believe he has a very bright future ahead, and will do very well if he moves into coaching. I wish Tyler, Laura, Bodhi and their growing family the very best in life.”

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