Rugby: Fruean smiling despite the shiner

By Kris Shannon

Robbie Fruean has controlled his irregular heartbeat with medication and is ready to boost the Chiefs' playoff push.   Picture / Getty Images
Robbie Fruean has controlled his irregular heartbeat with medication and is ready to boost the Chiefs' playoff push. Picture / Getty Images

He was sporting a significant shiner but Robbie Fruean could hardly help but smile as he contemplated a return to the Chiefs.

While his teammates were putting their feet up and enjoying the bye week, Fruean was working his way back to full fitness for new club Te Awamutu Sports - and he had the battle scars to prove it.

A head clash late in the game left him with stitches and a black eye but, more importantly, Fruean felt no further heart problems after spending the past nine weeks on the sideline.

The centre is now a possibility to be picked for Saturday night's clash with the Hurricanes, although a lack of match fitness could see him back in club rugby for another week. Regardless of when he again pulls on the Chiefs jersey, Fruean is just happy to have another chance to do so.

After the former Crusader underwent a second major heart surgery before his shift north in the offseason, Fruean's fresh start was curtailed by irregular heart rhythms while facing the Stormers in March.

The 25-year-old - whose health problems stem from a bout of rheumatic fever - has since controlled the condition with medication and, having received the all-clear from the doctors, he's now ready to boost the Chiefs' playoff push.

"It wasn't too bad," he said of his time off. "With having the first two major heart surgeries, I've come through it a lot stronger.

"I just saw it as a minor setback, really, and it takes a lot to faze me. I was a little bit gutted but it's just life and sometimes you've got to look after your health first. I was just happy to be alive and happy that I've been blessed with the opportunity to play again."

That opportunity arriving now - with five games remaining in the regular season - provided an ideal target for Fruean during the recovery process, ensuring his head never dropped despite the frustrating repetition of the malady.

Rather than feeling sorry for himself, Fruean was able to watch with excitement as the Chiefs positioned themselves on top of the New Zealand conference.

"If it was a different situation, where I couldn't come back, then it would have been a lot harder to deal with," he said.

While there may be another week of watching for Fruean, coach Dave Rennie must be eager to get the prized recruit back on the paddock. The Chiefs have used five different midfield combinations in Fruean's absence and, at 1.90m and 104kg, he adds more size than his counterparts.

"It was good that he played 80 minutes," Rennie said of Fruean's club run-out.

"The big thing is the step up in the pace of the game and obviously the work rate required at this level is massive. So he probably needs a little bit more game time under his belt."

Even when he does reach full fitness, Fruean knows it will be far from simple to force his way back into the starting XV. Before the bye, the Chiefs' attack was rapidly regaining its fluency and the midfield has been a big part of that.

"They've been filling in great and that's why, for me, it's going to be a tough road to try and get in there," Fruean said.

- NZ Herald

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