Rugby: Timing of Fruean's return perfect for team and player

By Kris Shannon

Robbie Fruean of the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images
Robbie Fruean of the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images

Robbie Fruean's return is at the perfect time, not only for the Chiefs but for his long-term viability as a player.

Fruean will start for the defending champions in their crucial encounter with the Highlanders in Dunedin tomorrow night, set to take the field for the first time since March.

Since the former Crusader's fresh start in Chiefs colours was curtailed by irregular heart rhythms while facing the Stormers three months ago, he has been patiently proving both his health and his fitness in a bid to return to the rugby field.

That bid has been successful and, while the Chiefs are delighted to call on the centre in their playoff push, the team's satisfaction will be nothing compared with what Fruean feels.

The 25-year-old appeared at a crossroads when his latest health problems struck, facing the possibility that a second major heart operation last year was insufficient to enable him to resume his playing career.

But with the irregular rhythms now controlled through medication, Fruean has a chance to show he does indeed have a future in the sport.

"It's opportune timing for him," said assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge. "He worked really hard to get himself back in the frame and there's a bigger picture for him.

"Not just winning selection for this game but proving to himself and everybody else that he's got a long-term future in the game. So it's a really good opportunity for him and we're very excited that he's back."

While Fruean's size and physicality will boost a Chiefs backline that has struggled for consistency this season, his inclusion has also provided a mental lift for his teammates.

"It's golden when you have someone who's working that hard to create an opportunity for themselves," Strawbridge said. "He's not the only one - there are a number of guys who have been working really hard to try and create an opportunity for themselves around selection."

Among them is Augustine Pulu, who has also battled back to full fitness after a spell on the sidelines. The halfback has recovered from knee surgery - aided by the timing of the international break - to again take up his duel with Tawera Kerr-Barlow for the No9 jersey.

With Kerr-Barlow having been occupied on All Black duty, Pulu has earned the nod to clash with Aaron Smith and enforce some of the tweaks the Chiefs made to their game over the June window.

"We had [Pulu] to work with while Tawera's been away and he understands some of these things that we're trying to change in our game," Strawbridge said.

The remainder of the Chiefs' All Black contingent have slotted straight into the starting side, with Aaron Cruden's selection at first-five seeing Gareth Anscombe shift to fullback, while Liam Messam and Brodie Retallick will bolster the champs' pack.

Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe, Dwayne Sweeney, Robbie Fruean, Bundee Aki, Tom Marshall, Aaron Cruden (c), Augustine Pulu, Liam Squire, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Michael Fitzgerald, Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Jamie Mackintosh, Josh Hohneck, Matt Symons, Tevita Koloamatangi, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Tim Nanai-Williams, James Lowe.

- NZ Herald

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