GIVEN all that has been levelled at Edinburgh’s rugby players in recent years, the insertion into the heart of their back-line of a man who has had major cardio issues in a bid to help those around him, might almost be seen as ironic.

The health problems Robbie Fruean has suffered cannot in any way be treated lightly, however, and the very fact that the New Zealander is still playing professionally at a high level should itself be inspirational to those around him as he settles into his new surroundings.

More than a decade has elapsed since, as a teenager, he was warned he might never play the sport he loves again, but persistent problems have been more than matched by an apparently unquenchable desire to keep playing, with the winner of the International Rugby Board’s under-19 player of the year award in 2007 – not long before he suffered the bout of rheumatic fever which was the initial source of his health issues – now in his 12th year as a professional.

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“He obviously brings a lot of experience from the Crusaders and Super Rugby, and a lot of physicality. He knows and understands the game very well, he’s a very good talker in attack and defence and he’ll be really helpful to Dunky Weir and Chris Dean around him,” Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill said after calling the 29-year-old into his starting line-up for a debut against the Dragons tonight.

“There is also his physical presence. There’s no doubting he’s a big man, with good feet and good skills and hopefully he’ll cause some issues with and without the ball.”

His introduction has been postponed by a different problem as he has been given time to shake off knee tendon damage, and the coach credited the club’s strength and conditioning team with otherwise getting Fruean into shape for the season ahead, while expressing confidence that he is otherwise in fine fettle.

“Around his heart condition, that’s an ongoing, bigger-picture thing that needs to be exactly right. The rest of it is just normal wear and tear on a player of his age who has played that much rugby,” Cockerill observed.

Even so the recurring nature of the problems he has had must, by definition, be considered as carrying a health warning, but Cockerill’s risk assessment was in keeping with the realistic way he has prioritised finding a way to win as the primary consideration for the club he has taken over.

In short, Edinburgh’s status is such that if they are to recruit players with superior skills, they do not have the capacity to attract the very best which frees them up to take more of a chance on a player like Fruean.

“You have to understand that where we are as a club at the moment, we’re probably not first off the rank when people are choosing clubs to come to,” said Cockerill.

“So we have to take a little bit of a risk on some players and Robbie’s injury history isn’t perfect, but we’ll look after him, we’ll get him fit and we’ve done that over the last few weeks to get him on the field.

“I think Robbie’s a good player, a good man and very much worth the risk, because I think we’ll be able to keep him fit in our environment. He’ll be a great asset to the playing side.”