Crusaders centre Fruean linked with move to English club Bath
Robbie Fruean could be set to farewell New Zealand and link with Todd Blackadder at English premiership club Bath.
Crusaders and Hawke's Bay midfielder/wing Fruean, who missed the entire Super Rugby season because of a chest muscle injury and illness, is understood to be discussing a move to Bath and, if a deal is confirmed, will continue working under former Crusaders coach Blackadder and Tabai Matson.
Blackadder recently left the Crusaders after eight seasons in charge, and is contracted to work with Bath as their director of rugby for three years. Matson will be employed as head coach at the Somerset-based club for four years.
Apart from his debut season with the Hurricanes in 2009, and a stint with the Chiefs in 2014, Fruean has played all his Super Rugby at the Crusaders.
If the 28 year old, who was named World Rugby under-19 player of the year in 2007 and later underwent open-heart surgery to repair a heart condition known as pancarditis, moves offshore he forfeits any chance of representing the All Blacks.
Currently contracted to Hawke's Bay, Fruean will return to action for the Magpies when fully fit.
"We certainly expect him to be involved. Robbie is training and we hope he will soon be available to play for us," Hawke's Bay chief executive Mike Bishop said.
Bishop said he was unaware of what Fruean's plans were beyond the national provincial championship, but it is understood his contract with the Crusaders has expired and new coach Scott Robertson, who has already signed former Wallaby outside back Digby Ioane, may be looking for fresh talent. It is likely the versatile Jordie Barrett, who played under Robertson in the NZ under-20 team and will continue to work under him with Canterbury, is on his target list.
A powerful unit, Fruean has the ability to get backlines firing by using his leg drive and intimidating fend to put immense pressure on defensive lines.
Illness and injury, however, have repeatedly forced him to place a handbrake on his professional rugby aspirations.
He withdrew from the Crusaders squad midway through the 2013 season because he required heart surgery, and the following year had another operation which limited him to just four appearances for the Chiefs.
When Matson learned the Chiefs didn't offer Fruean a fresh contract, he invited him back to Christchurch where his wretched run with injury continued in 2015. In his third start on the right wing he broke his arm against the Chiefs, and wasn't sighted until later in the campaign when he was rewarded with two starts at centre.
A torn pectoral muscle in pre-season training proved a major setback for Fruean during Blackadder's final year in charge. Any chance of him returning were ruined because of illness, and it wasn't until July that he was able to start running again.
If Fruean's departure is signed-off it will mean he is the fifth back to leave the Crusaders. Nemani Nadolo (France), Johnny McNicholl and Kieron Fonotia (Wales) and Andy Ellis (Japan) have confirmed they are moving on.
Blackadder has also contacted former Crusaders five-eighth Daniel Bowden, who made six appearances for the club in 2010, to play for him at Bath.