Bleyendaal’s new deal may combine playing and coaching

They call him “The General”. As squad nicknames go, it’s a pretty good one. You don’t get a nickname like that for nothing in a rugby squad. Normally they’re just not that, I don’t know, cool?

So for Tyler Bleyendaal to be referred to as “The General” is something special. To get a nickname like “The General”, you either have to (1) Start referring to yourself that way – just like Paul Ince’s “Guv’nor” – and that’s not Tyler Bleyendaal’s style.

Or (2) Be the complete opposite of the nickname so it’s ironic, just like the lad who I coached who was nicknamed Einstein because he was thick as mince to the point where you’d almost be worried about him

Or (3) Be genuinely held in that esteem by the squad as a whole. That third one is rare. And it should tell you a lot about what Tyler Bleyendaal brings to the squad and the organisation as a whole.

Guinness PRO14, Rodney Parade, Newport, Wales 26/1/2019 Dragons vs Munster Tyler Bleyendaal of Munster Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Alex Davidson

In the aftermath of the announcement of Tyler Bleyendaal’s new contract, I received a tonne of messages from people referencing his re-signing as further proof of Munster bloating a position in the squad.

On the face of it, Bleyendaal’s re-signing looks strange. His performances haven’t really been near the standard that he set in 2016/2017 when he was playing like a test level player and impressing the likes of Schmidt to the point where he was at an Ireland camp in 2017/2018 that he seriously impressed at.

His latest neck issue took him out for the guts of another year after a Munster career where he’s managed 49 appearances in four years. Twenty seven of those appearances came in 2016/2017 and he’s managed an average of five appearances a season outside that so far.

He came back to semi-regular action this season in November 2018 and has made four starts (three of them at #12) and six appearances off the bench since then.

I don’t see how a player with that record is going to “steal” game time from young players – let alone young #10s.

I think that we’ll see Bleyendaal used mainly as a rotation player, bench cover and experienced depth option at 10/12 over the next two and half years that he’s contracted.

I also think we’ll see Bleyendaal take more and more responsibility off the field as he transitions into his early 30s with this deal.

Guinness PRO14, Parc y Scarlets, Wales 2/3/2019 Scarlets vs Munster Munster’s Tyler Bleyendaal Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Alex Davidson

He’s already involved in match preparation off the field and I’d expect that to ramp up as he progresses. Either way, Munster were going to keep him around be it as a playing option, a coaching option or as a blend of both.

Sometimes managing a squad of people is not about “maintaining a lean squad” – whatever that actually means in practicality – as much as it is keeping important, dedicated characters in house.

If Bleyendaal is already trusted to lead certain meetings and presentations pre and post-game, it shows that he’s already on the right track. As for player’s being involved with the coaching, I think there’s a fine line to walk.

Guys like Eddie Jones talks a lot about players being heavily involved in coaching sessions and, in some ways, would ideally do a lot of the coaching themselves.

I think this is a little different to the Player driven environment that pretty much everyone agrees are the gold standard in peak sports performance.

I’ve seen some “Players Coach” sessions run quite well but one in particular sticks in the memory.

Guinness PRO14, Rodney Parade, Newport, Wales 26/1/2019 Dragons vs Munster Munster’s Tyler Bleyendaal leads his team out Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Alex Davidson

The team I was doing video for essentially had to coach themselves for two weeks in the build up to a game after the coach and his friend (backs coach) took time off after a bereavement.

The senior players put together training and planning in the build-up and it lead to an absolutely septic, disorganised performance come the weekend with the players left pointing fingers after the 30 point loss.

Player driven environments are only as good as the characters doing the driving in the environment and sometimes I think there’s real value in having players “show up to work” and leave the coaching and assessment to the guys paid to do that.

It’s anecdotal, yes, but in the clubs I’ve worked with in Italy and Spain over the last year, players seem to want a clear hierarchy with a clear need to “you train, we work”.

Munster Rugby Squad Training, UL, Limerick 25/2/2019 Tyler Bleyendaal Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Oisin Keniry

At higher levels – where I have no direct experience of coaching – it might well be different and players may want more input on the coaching side but I think my experience translates upwards too.

Players want to play. If you let too much in on the coaching side, they take on all the worries that come with that and they’ve more than enough to be thinking about just on the playing side.

Players can lead by example and drive standards – this is ideal – but I think a clear delineation between playing group and coaching group is the best way to run it.

That’ll be the line that Tyler Bleyendaal will have to walk as the next two years progress, if he is indeed to take on more coaching responsibilities.

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