Tyler Bleyendaal is set to start Munster’s Heineken Champions Cup semi final against Saracens on Saturday. Could the New Zealand born Irish qualified out-half be kicking for the All Blacks at the World Cup later this year? The Kiwis are still reeling from the news that Damian McKenzie will miss the upcoming tournament in Japan. It leaves them short of number 10's and reliving nervous memories from eight years ago.
The All Blacks selectors named just two ‘first five-eighths’ for the World Cup in New Zealand 2011. Dan Carter and Colin Slade were on crutches before the tournament was over, so Graham Henry had to call up Aaron Cruden and Stephen Donald. Having been blamed for a loss to Australia, Donald decided to go fishing rather than watch the tournament, and initially ignored the call up believing it was a prank. When Cruden limped off early in the final against France, Donald took to the field, kicked a wobbly penalty, earned a tense victory and sealed his cult status.
Current coach Steve Hansen still has Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga, but the distance between those and the rest of the playmakers in New Zealand is substantial. Plenty of names have been flung around, but there is no stand out candidate. There have even been calls for Cruden to be recalled from France. The 30 year old is a 50 test veteran, but has fallen out of favour at Montpellier and has been linked with a cut price move to Glasgow. So could Hansen be thinking about the one that got away?
Christchurch native Bleyendaal captained New Zealand to the Under 20 World Cup title in 2010 and spent a number of seasons as Dan Carter’s understudy at the Crusaders. Rob Penney was the first to try and coax him to Munster. Anthony Foley succeeded. It was a major coup for the province and a huge disappointment in Bleyendaal’s homeland, where they rated him as one of the best.
Munster have stuck by the 28 year old through serious neck and quad injuries. Joe Schmidt called him into an Ireland training camp in 2017, but he was sidelined from most of last season. Johann van Graan says he didn’t hesitate in handing Bleyendaal a new contract extension in February. With Joey Carbery now injured, he is set to lead Munster’s bid for a first European final since 2008. Many in the land of the long white cloud will be up early to watch.
In the film 'Sliding Doors', Gwyneth Paltrow’s character lives out two parallel lives based on whether she catches a train or not. A good performance this weekend and Bleyendaal could be lining out at the World Cup in Black or Green.