Edinburgh's Robbie Fruean takes injuries in stride after heart scares
The 29-year-old New Zealand-born centre was new coach Richard Cockerill’s marquee summer signing and the former Bath and Crusaders centre marked his debut with the bonus-point clinching try in Friday’s 35-18 win over the Dragons at Myreside.
The rising star had not long been crowned world under-19 player of the year when he was struck by rheumatic fever in 2007 and, aged 19, had two open heart surgeries.
The condition is an inflammatory disease that can damage the heart and is caused by an adverse reaction to a strep throat infection.
Fruean recovered to star as a youngster for the mighty Crusaders in Super Rugby, playing alongside All Blacks legends such as former skipper Richie McCaw, pictured, and legendary stand-off Dan Carter, not to mention forming a fruitful midfield partnership with the great Sonny Bill Williams.
Fruean arrived in Scotland after an injury-hit spell at Bath and, having come through a stringent medical, he is able to shrug off the recent setbacks to his career and focus on the bigger picture.
“Yeah, it’s been pretty tough,” he said of his time in England’s west country from where he headed north with a patellar tendon issue in his knee, which delayed his first appearance in an Edinburgh jersey until last Friday.
“But because of the fact I’ve been through two heart surgeries and two minor surgeries, since 2013 it’s just been a case of injuries. Coming back from a heart surgery, it seems so minor when you’re breaking your forearm or ripping your pec. You go from something life-threatening to just breaking something.
“I’m used to dealing with it. It has been tough mentally at times, wondering whether I’d continue on and keep putting my body through this. I’ve got a little one now, so I’m starting to realise the importance of being able to run around with her, dance with her at home, make her cheer up and things like that.
“I am starting to realise that, and that’s why I’m taking care of my body a little bit more now, and just making sure that whenever the trainers are telling me I can train, I’ll train, and not trying to push it.”
Fruean is delighted to be enjoying a new adventure in a career which could easily have been over before it began. He says he is loving Edinburgh, preferring to explore on foot, citing the traffic headaches which will be well known to locals. Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder, the ex-All Black and former Edinburgh player and coach, told him to “bring a jacket” but he said the “four seasons in one day” joys of the Scottish capital simply reminded him of home.
“It is definitely great to still be involved [in rugby],” he said. “I have a couple of friends who have heart conditions very similar to mine. They have had to stop playing rugby simply because of circumstances. For myself I appreciate being able to be involved in rugby at a high level every day. I never take it for granted so it is cool.”
Fruean is the first to admit that his debut was far from perfect. There were a few fumbles but also enough flashes of class at inside centre to suggest that he could be a key man as the season unfolds. A head knock to Chris Dean meant the debutant played an unexpected full 80 minutes and struck late on for a maiden try.
“It was a nice moment. I had a bit of a shaky start but to finish it off with a try was awesome,” he said. “On Friday I was a little bit nervous, and I think I let the nerves get the best of me. Even though I’ve had ten years in the game, I still get nervous. Whether it’s my first game or my 50th game, I still get nervous every time.”
Edinburgh will aim to make it three successive Guinness Pro14 wins at home to Treviso on Friday and Fruean said that, although he was a new boy to the club, he was embracing a senior role within the squad.
“I was part of the Crusaders, and coming through I was one of the young guys,” he said. “I was playing with some big names there, like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.
“Whereas coming over here I want to put my hand up every week and be available, but then I’m not the young guy any more. I’m the more experienced guy that’s trying to help the young guys coming through.”