Diagnosed with rheumatic fever a decade ago – a condition that resulted in long periods out of the game and cost him the chance of an All Blacks place – ex-Crusaders star Fruean underwent heart valve replacement operations in 2009 and 2013.
Undaunted, Fruean’s Samoan heritage means he can still dream of Test rugby and he now has his sights trained on a place at the 2019 World Cup.
Fruean, 28, told The Rugby Paper: “I would love to play at a World Cup and with my Samoan roots I would jump at the opportunity of Test rugby, but that’s something for the future because for now I’ve just got to make sure I perform well for Bath.
“Over the last three years I’ve not been able to play much rugby. I had heart surgery in 2013 and since recovering from that I’ve always seemed to have a niggling injury, so I’ve never been in a position to press my claims internationally.”
Former New Zealand U19s man Fruean added: “When I was first told I had a heart condition in 2007 I was advised I probably shouldn’t play anymore, but I’m still here ten years down the track.
“I’d love to have represented the All Blacks but early in my career I was up against top quality players like Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Richard Kahui and Sonny Bill Williams, so combined with my medical issues I never had that chance.”
Fit and firing after a recent hamstring strain, Fruean is ready to make his mark for a Bath outfit he feels can target silverware.
However, he admits the power of Premiership rugby has shocked him, explaining: “The biggest difference is how heavy the midfield contact is here. You’ve got a lot more forwards running off the No.9s and you’re tackling much bigger men here than in New Zealand.
“In the Southern Hemisphere they pride themselves on running rugby, but here it’s about physical dominance in midfield. The Premiership’s a tougher league with more impacts and it’s something I’m adjusting too.”
That said, Fruean claims Bath midfield partner Jonathan Joseph, left, is one of the most skilful individuals he has played with.
“He’s an awesome all-round player with a kicking and running game,” Fruean said.
“He’s different to, say, Sonny Bill Williams, but he’s right up there with the world’s best and has made a real impact to the way England play. England are now starting to use their wide men and they’re on the road to being able to use all their players with ability.
“If you look at New Zealand, every player can play and with the way rugby is going a lot of teams will be adapting to that style. England seem to be getting there a bit quicker than most and guys like Jonathan are leading that.”
Bath lie fourth in the Premiership and Fruean added: “We’ve got quality across the board and our depth is good, so we’ve definitely got a great chance of competing for that top four come May.
“We’re putting our hands up for the Challenge Cup, too, and trying to play the type of running rugby Bath’s renowned for.”