Composed and confident throughout, Bleyendaal got through an hour unscathed. After kicking his second conversion on a windy afternoon at Forenaughts, the 24-year-old made his departure just shy of the hour mark.
“For us to get him through 60 minutes is super,” said Munster A coach Mick O’Driscoll. “All going well and he comes out of this tomorrow okay, we can push (him) on a little and who knows, he might even feature this season.”
Munster head coach Anthony Foley was in Kildare to witness Bleyendaal’s performance first-hand as the Reds build towards a potential Pro 12 final at the end of May.
“We’re delighted that he (Bleyendaal) came through the game,” said O’Driscoll. “He’s been running opposition plays in training for the last, probably four to six weeks, and he’s been doing it quite well.”
The New Zealand native joined the province last January but his Munster arrival had been delayed by a neck injury.
“Coming back from any surgery let alone neck surgery you are going to be a little bit anxious about it,” said O’Driscoll. “Again he was confident that there was no issues, that he was okay so I think he was happy enough in the knowledge that he was going to come through it but then again actually coming through it is a different thing.”
The former Crusaders star captained his country to an under-20 World Cup victory in 2010 but yesterday’s appearance was his first competitive game since August 2014.
“It’s been a long, old road for him,” said Munster full-back Johne Murphy. “I think to come out and play the way he did after such a long lay-off, and he was very accurate, that shows the quality of player that he is.”
Playing against a strong breeze in the first half, Munster were on the back foot for most of the opening quarter. With Murphy and Bleyendaal marshalling the defence, Ulster were thwarted close to the line a number of times. Impressive centre David Johnston inspired the game’s opening score when he turned defence into attack from deep inside his own 22. Flanker Conor Oliver eventually went over to put Munster in front after 17 minutes.
Although Bleyendaal failed with a difficult conversion, he put Murphy through for Munster’s second try six minutes later. Murphy then turned provider as Luke O’Dea ran in Munster’s third try to give them a 17-13 lead at half-time.
“There was a couple of tries today that were down to him (Bleyendaal) just trusting what was outside him and letting the ball go,” said Murphy. “He’s got a great awareness of space and where to get the ball at the right times.”
Although Ulster hit back after the break with a try from Peter Nelson, their lead didn’t last long. Munster replacements Olly Lyons and Diarmuid McCarthy (two) brought Munster’s try count to six as they ran out convincing winners. Johnston finished with 12 points, kicking a penalty and two conversions after Bleyendaal’s departure.
J Murphy (try); D Sweetnam, D Johnston (try, pen, 2 cons), D Goggin, L O’Dea; T Bleyendaal (2 cons), C Sheridan; L O’Connor, N Scannell, P McCabe; J Madigan, F Bradshaw Ryan; D O’Callaghan, C Oliver (try), J O’Donoghue. Reps: L O’Halloran, N Horan, JP Phelan, L Nicholas, D Dee, O Lyons (try), N Cronin, G Lyons, R Deegan, A Wootton, D McCarthy (2 tries).
P Nelson (try); M Allen, M Best, S Arnold, M Hooks; M Heaney (2 pens, 3 cons), D Shanahan; K McCall (try), J Andrew, R Lutton; J Donnan, L Stevenson; C Joyce, C Ross, L Dow. Reps: R Murphy, J Murphy, A Thompson, N McComb, F Taggart, S Reidy, S Mulholland (try), C Young, M Hooks, A Craig, K Joyce.