One-time All Blacks prospect Robbie Fruean has revealed how he startled medical staff by waking up during one of his operations.

The big centre is hanging on to his international dreams, hoping to play for Samoa at the 2019 World Cup.

The former Crusaders star suffered a bitter blow to his career when still a teenager, being diagnosed with rheumatic fever and told to have emergency surgery.

The 28-year-old Fruean, now playing for English club Bath, told the Daily Mail: "I remember one of the latter surgeries. They were working through my hip and I suddenly woke up. They were mid-op and there was concern on the doctor's face. I thought, "Woah, this ain't good" then fell back to sleep. Next time I woke up they were all cheering."

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Fruean, an IRB junior player of the year in 2007, began suffering illness including aching joints in his late teens. He has had two valve replacements - a pig valve then a larger cow one - plus two more operations to resolve heart beat irregularities.

"When I first found out I was young and immature,' said Fruean.

"The doctor told my parents I might never play rugby again but I was just thinking, 'No, I'm not hearing this. Stuff this. This is outrageous'. I was 18 and this guy was saying I'd never play again."

He played 70 Super Rugby games for the Hurricanes, Crusaders and Chiefs, but was always plagued by fitness issues related to the illness.