Fruean's rugby future hangs on a heartbeat

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 17/03/2014
Robbie Fruean
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ
CENTRE OF ATTENTION: Robbie Fruean made a great start to the Super Rugby season with his new Chiefs team but now further heart problems have put his future in doubt.

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The unbeaten Chiefs will make a decision today on whether heart-troubled centre Robbie Fruean travels with them to Perth and South Africa.

The back-to-back Super Rugby champions, who currently top the New Zealand conference, head off on their three-match overseas tour tomorrow, flying to Perth for next Saturday night's match against the Force before going on to South Africa to play the Bulls and Cheetahs.

They will finalise a travelling squad of 27 (increased this year from 26 with the addition of a fifth prop for the eight-man bench) today and that includes medical decisions about both Fruean and tighthead prop Ben Afeaki.

Fruean had his second open-heart surgery last year to replace a faulty valve but started the season with a bang after switching from the Crusaders to the Chiefs.

He took a knock to the head during their 36-20 win over the Stormers at Waikato Stadium on Friday night but also suffered from a sped-up heartbeat, which left him short of breath. He had been on medication to control that.

"We've got to check on that so our medics are talking to his specialist and that sort of thing just to come up with the best solution, and we'll make a decision [on whether Fruean travels with the team to Perth] tomorrow," head coach Dave Rennie said yesterday.

Afeaki, who was concussed in a head clash with Brodie Retallick during the opening match of the season against the Crusaders on February 22, still has to pass a concussion test today, although Rennie said Afeaki was feeling a lot better than he had been previously and they were reasonably confident he would travel.

Both wing James Lowe (medial cruciate ligament damage to his knee) and centre Charlie Ngatai (torn calf) are confirmed as missing the trip, with Lowe out for an estimated four to six weeks and Ngatai for six to eight weeks.

That means young wider training group midfield back Anton Leinert-Brown, 18, who was trialling for the New Zealand Under-20 team at the weekend, will travel with the squad.

He will likely join fellow midfield backs Andrew Horrell and Tom Marshall, while versatile outside backs Tim Nanai-Williams, Mils Muliaina and Asaeli Tikoirotuma will also provide cover in that area.

Flanker Sam Cane, halfback Augustine Pulu and No 8 Kane Thompson have recovered from knee injuries and are likely to travel but lock/loosie Ross Filipo is still out with a rotator cuff injury he is trying to rehab rather than have surgery on. And backs Robbie Robinson and Bundee Aki are still out, Aki likely to be back from shoulder surgery in time for the match against the Rebels on April 12.

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Rennie said the trip worked out well for them, going to Perth first to play the Force and therefore able to break up their travel on the way to South Africa.

"It's similar timelines and a shorter trip [than going directly to South Africa] and we don't have to leave till Tuesday.

"Immediately after the game [against the Force] we jump on a plane about midnight which fits in with our sleep patterns and we are away for three weeks, so it's an opportunity to get a bit of work done because the boys don't have to go home at night."

The Chiefs play both their South African games - against the Bulls (Pretoria) and Cheetahs (Bloemfontein) - at high altitude and will travel straight to Johannesburg to prepare, and then afterwards hope to use the benefits of training and playing on the high veld when they return to host the Rebels in Hamilton.

They are sitting pretty at the top of the New Zealand conference and second overall, five points behind the only other unbeaten team, South Africa's Sharks, who have played one extra game.

The Chiefs have three wins out of three and 13 points - five better than the second-placed Kiwi team, the Crusaders, who have played one extra match, and six better than the third-placed Highlanders who like the Chiefs have played only three.

Rennie said Friday night's win - providing their first bonus point of the season - was a step up but there was still plenty of room for improvement and they had missed the chance to put the Stormers away earlier in the match after going 24-6 up a minute into the second spell.

The Chiefs will come up against a Force team who have strung together back-to-back bonus-point victories.

"They have certainly clicked really well in the last couple of weeks.

"All the talk was how they couldn't score four-try bonus points and they've got two in two weeks.

"They've made some real shifts," Rennie said.

- Waikato Times

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