Chiefs centre Robbie Fruean will return to rugby after his latest heart procedure via Waikato club rugby today.
Fruean has been sidelined for the last nine weeks after he suffered from abnormal heart rhythms, including an accelerated heartbeat, during the Chiefs' home game against South Africa's Stormers at Waikato Stadium on March 14. He had been able to control the condition with medication after his second open heart surgery last year while with the Crusaders to replace a valve.
The giant midfielder subsequently had a procedure to fix the heart rhythm problem and has been back running for several weeks now before getting the green light to test himself and rebuild match fitness via club rugby.
The 1.90-metre, 104-kilogram Fruean will start at centre for Ecolab Te Awamutu Sports today at Waikato University at 2.45pm against Haswell Catley Trophy leaders New World Te Rapa University.
Te Awamutu team manager Peter Bain confirmed that Fruean had trained with the team this week and the club had been told they could have him for up to three matches, depending on how he progressed.
"When we found out he was going to play for us and told the team a week or so back everybody just looked at each other in surprise and were just very excited about it," Bain said.
University, who will be without their five New Zealand Under-20 players from now until after the IRB Junior World Championship in Auckland, see Fruean's appearance against them as a chance for their in-form midfield combination of Glen Robertson and Chauncey Edwardson to test themselves against a highly rated Super Rugby player.
University lead the premier division at the halfway mark of the round-robin competition with 41 points, while Te Awamutu Sports are well below them in seventh place on 15 points. But Hay said the table toppers were wary of a Te Awamutu side, coached by Deon Muir and Ray Stowe, that have improved since they played them at the start of the season at Te Awamutu back in mid-March.
"I think Te Awamutu are going to be a pretty different beast from when we played them in the first round," Hay said. "We had a pretty good pre-season when, according to Deon they didn't have much of one, didn't have many numbers and were a bit unorganised early on.
"So they'll be angry and obviously are fighting in that middle table to make the top four and with Robbie Fruean and that they will be amping to get up against us."
University have an in-form forward pack, even without under-20 front rowers Hame Faiva and Tau Koloamatangi, who haven't played for them for several weeks.
With Joe Walsh now back from his ankle injury at tighthead prop and lock Jacob Skeen in top form, combining with former Northland rep David Morgan in the second row, plus a form loose forward trio of Eli Atkins, Whetu Douglas and Louis Rogers with Sean Nixon coming off the bench, they will provide a stern test for the Te Awamutu forwards. Hay said the team had talked about the need to avoid any complacency brought about by the knowledge they beat Te Awamutu 29-10 in the first round, having been brought down to earth three weeks ago by a heavy loss to Fraser-Tech.
All other premier A matches this afternoon are also being played in Hamilton with second-placed OTC/Freightlines Otorohanga up against bottom-placed Seafood Bazaar Te Rapa at St Andrews Park.
Third-placed The Bank Hamilton Old Boys host APL Direct Hautapu at Fred Jones Park, fourth-placed Shenanigans Fraser-Tech are at home to Nottingham Castle Morrinsville Sports at Mill St and defending champions Lodge City Rentals Hamilton Marist travel to Collins Rd to take on TDO Melville.
AT A GLANCE
Waikato club rugby Premier A Division (all games kick off at 2.45pm): Fraser-Tech vs Morrinsville Sports, Mill St; Hamilton Old Boys vs Hautapu, Fred Jones Park; Melville vs Hamilton Marist, Collins Rd; Te Rapa vs Otorohanga, St Andrews Pk; University vs Te Awamutu Sports, Waikato University
- Waikato Times