After two heart operations Robbie Fruean might he considered a liability in some professional sports franchises, but not the Chiefs.
The strapping 1.90-metre, 110-kilogram centre has signed with the Super Rugby champions and is looking for a new direction in his career just months after a second heart valve replacement.
Fruean, 25, started training with his new team-mates last Thursday when the first intake of squad members started pre-season training for the 2014 season. He has been given the medical green light to do non-contact training and is looking trim, albeit with a lot of strength and fitness conditioning ahead of him to get to the levels required to play Super Rugby.
"It has been a success," Fruean confirmed of his open heart surgery.
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie is optimistic the big centre can make a real impact on the field for his side.
"He reckons he is in the worst condition he's ever been in but he got a PB on his yo-yo the other day so I think over the next few weeks we'll get a fair bit of work into him and are pretty hopeful he'll be ready to go at the start of the pre-season," Rennie said.
Fruean is seen as a key man in a Chiefs midfield with no Sonny Bill Williams or Richard Kahui and Charlie Ngatai aside, is quite small in stature.
"He's a monster and gives us a bit of size in midfield so he's a good option," Rennie said.
"And his speed's good, but his repeat of speed stuff is what is going to be important."
Rennie said Fruean was yet to reach his playing potential with his heart problems having affected his workrate for large chunks of his career.
"We're hopeful we'll get him in good nick but we're not going to rush him, so if he's not ready he's not ready, but he's making good strides."
Fruean said he first noticed something was wrong with his health at the start of this year.
"I would do a run but I was absolutely knackered when normally that would happen after about the third or fourth run.
"So I knew something wasn't right. I had a check-up and that's when the specialist noticed that the valve [which had originally been replaced in 2009] wasn't functioning properly."
That valve had originally been replaced in 2008 after a bout of rheumatic fever had damaged the Wellington-born player's heart, Fruean having been IRB Under-19 world player of the year in 2007.
When he recovered he switched provinces to join the Crusaders and Canterbury but the problem resurfaced this year.
The surgeon found the valve was too small for his size and the level that he exercised at so a slightly bigger valve was put in its place and its positioning changed slightly to improve blood flow.
It appears to have worked and while Fruean admitted he still had a lot of catching up to do in terms of fitness and strength he felt his recovery had been quicker this time around.
"I've made gains in the first couple of weeks that are the same if not better than the last four years so I guess the fact he made [the valve] a little bit bigger is working."
His time away from rugby has also helped him sort out a few personal problems and he feels he has got his life back on track and is ready to pour everything into his rugby and push to reach the next level.
"So, no excuses now, I've just got to make sure I keep at it and go hard."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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