Crusaders centre Robbie Fruean has withdrawn from the remainder off the Super 15 season after being forced to undergo further heart surgery.
The Crusaders announced today the 24-year-old requires a further valve replacement as a result of rheumatic fever he suffered aged 20. His cardiac function has been slowly deteriorating over the last six months and his specialist has recommended further surgery.
Following surgery, Fruean is likely to be in hospital for four-to-five days and it's expected he can start gentle exercise within six weeks of surgery.
"Robbie has been closely monitored over the past few months and, in conjunction with his specialist team, the decision has been made to withdraw him from the remainder of the season and to have surgery,'' Crusaders doctor Deborah Robinson said. "While Robbie is facing major surgery he is otherwise fit and healthy which should stand him in good stead for his recovery.''
Head coach Todd Blackadder said he and the team were fully behind Fruean.
"Robbie is a true inspiration to us all. He is positive about his upcoming surgery and is looking forward to getting his recovery underway.
"The Crusaders will miss his presence on the field plus all the laughter he brings to the team off the field. However we are fully behind Robbie and our thoughts and prayers are with him.
`I have no doubt that if the surgery goes well Robbie will be back next year and will be a force to be reckoned with. He is a fantastic rugby player. I know it's been frustrating for him over the last few months that his body has not been able to perform to level he would like it to.
Fruean's rugby career had to be put temporarily on hold in 2009 when his pancarditis was first identified following rheumatic fever and he underwent open-heart surgery.
It didn't hold him back for long, though, and in his debut season with Canterbury in 2010 ITM Cup he was the joint leading try scorer and named player of the year, earning the award again in 2012. He was selected for the Crusaders in 2010 and, with 61 caps under his belt, he has racked up an impressive 80 points.
Prior to his elevation to Super Rugby, the centre also represented New Zealand in the 2007 under-19 world championship-winning side, winning IRB under-19 player of the year.