Tyler Bleyendaal earns Crusaders start - at last
Last year Tyler Bleyendaal's ride on rugby's magic carpet hit a dirty black cloud.
At just 20 – before he had even represented Canterbury – the first five-eighth was signed-up for the Crusaders.
Although All Blacks superstar Dan Carter was expected to hog the playmaker's job, there were predictions journeyman Matt Berquist and Bleyendaal would lock antlers in the scrap to be his deputy.
Instead, it proved to be a no-contest and Bleyendaal was the loser.
He never even got near the No10 jersey; the closest was when he suited-up as a reserve for the opening round match against the Blues.
The lowest point came when the Crusaders were decimated by injuries during their two-match trip to South Africa in May; Bleyendaal had been omitted from the original touring side but when coach Todd Blackadder fired back an SOS for reinforcements he hoped for a call-up.
But Blackadder recruited wider training group player Tom Taylor, who could also cover second-five, instead.
"It was frustrating – especially when there were heaps of injuries over in South Africa and there were plenty of positions open," Bleyendaal admitted. "It was frustrating, for sure, but there was not much I could do about it."
Tonight, against the Blues in their Super opener at Eden Park, Bleyendaal finally gets his chance to prove his value.
Having been preferred to start ahead of Taylor he continues the remarkable record of Christchurch Boys' High School old boys – Colin Slade, Stephen Brett, Aaron Mauger, Andrew Mehrtens and Carter – to start at No10 for the Crusaders.
"I have been here for a season and a bit and I just feel I am ready to play," Bleyendaal said. "It has been a long time coming but I definitely feel I am ready for it."
Dave Bone, who encouraged Bleyendaal to switch to first-five at under-15 level and was one of his coaches when he represented the Boys' High 1st 15 in 2006 and 2007, said he displayed a cool temperament and desire to succeed from an early age.
The 2006 Boys' High team won the national top four competition and later took the international invitation tournament crown in Japan.
Bone said he would be surprised if Bleyendaal allowed the Blues to snap his concentration.
"I don't know if I would say he is laid back but he is calm," Bone said. "He knows what needs to be done and he was a very motivated kid at school. I couldn't fault him. Every pressure situation we put him in, he responded very, very well."
In 2010, Bleyendaal captained New Zealand to their world under-20 championships title win and following last year's deflating Super season he earned regular starts for Canterbury as they defended their national title.
Tonight Blackadder will be demanding Bleyendaal display his leadership and ability to trust team systems and those around him.
Eating up the hours before kick-off is often a chore for players, something the 21-year-old says he will do by ducking out for a coffee, hanging out with his mates and sleeping.
"I'm a relaxed kind of guy," Bleyendaal noted. "It is a big game but it is just another game of rugby too. I'll be relaxed knowing I have to do the basics well, just know what the team needs to do. And if I am confident and clear in that, that preparation won't fly by but we will get there."