ROBBIE Fruean knows Edinburgh have taken something of a gamble in signing him; it is why he is even more determined to repay the club by using his experience of the top flight in New Zealand to ditch the role of club joker and become a true leader.

Over his career, the big centre, who still harbours ambitions of heading for the next Rugby World Cup with Samoa, has not had to look hard for his problems. As World Player of the Year during his Under 19 days, he was going to be the next big thing in All Black back play – then disaster struck. Rheumatic fever left him needing open-heart surgery with a second major operation a few years later, plus a couple of less dramatic heart operations in between. As he reflected a few days after making a scoring debut, it all puts the routine ups and downs of sport in perspective.

“It is definitely is great to still be involved,” he said. “I have a couple of friends who have heart conditions very similar to mine. They had to stop playing rugby simply because of circumstances. For myself, I appreciate being able to involved in rugby at a high level every day. 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.”

Loading article content

He was at the Crusaders when he had the second bout of surgery, had a spell at the Chiefs, then back at the Crusaders before moving to Bath – hardly playing for any of them before pitching up at Edinburgh in the summer with a knee problem that ruled him out of the pre-season matches and the opening game in Cardiff. It was hardly surprising, then, that he looked – and, by his own admission, felt – nervous and rusty on his club debut, making a few early mistakes before coming good, giving the final pass for the third Edinburgh try and scoring the last himself to show what he can offer.

“Coming through, I was obviously one of the young guys,” Fruean said. “I was playing with some big names there, like the All Black captain Richie McCaw, and Dan Carter. It was just a case of going out, knowing what I needed to do for the team, and putting my hand up every week. Over here, I’ve got similar tasks – I want to put my hand up every week and be available every week – but then I’m not the young guy any more. I’m the more experienced guy who’s trying to help the young guys coming through.”

The heart troubles no longer stop Fruean doing all the training and fitness work he wants while he firmly hopes the routine rugby injuries are also behind him. A run of games would let him repay Edinburgh and maybe reignite the Test career that looked inevitable 10 years ago but has been on hold ever since.