FAMILIAR SURROUNDINGS, FAMILIAR faces, but as one of two uncapped players in Ireland’s extended World Cup training squad, this all remains new territory for Jean Kleyn.
The big South African-born second row was a popular figure during Ireland’s open training session at Thomond Park on Friday, the sight of a Munster favourite in national kit an exciting one for the province’s supporters.
Kleyn during Friday’s session at Thomond Park. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Having joined Munster ahead of the 2016/17 season, Kleyn qualifies to represent Ireland through the three-year residency rule on 8 August, two days before Joe Schmidt’s side face Italy in their first World Cup warm-up game at the Aviva Stadium.
As an old-school ‘enforcer’, Kleyn brings huge physicality to the game and through his second row partnership with Tadhg Beirne at Munster last season, further displayed his tackling, carrying, rucking, scrummaging and mauling strengths.
Those attributes are sure to have caught Schmidt’s eye and his inclusion in the 45-man panel has given him a chance to impress the coaches in the build-up to Japan, but the uncapped Kleyn is still considered an outsider to make the final 31-man cut.
“I am not confident of anything,” he says. “I am working as hard as I can and if I put my hand up enough and work hard enough then hopefully I will be recognised.
“They [the other second rows] were a lot more nailed in on the detail than I was coming in. It’s been a good four, five weeks of work. I am getting up to the level where I am at a reasonable understanding of what we are doing on the pitch and not just running around like a headless chicken.
“It is getting better but there is a couple of really good locks. It is very strong competition but competition breeds excellence.”
By all accounts, Kleyn has made a good impression during his time in national camp as Ireland spent training weeks in Carton House, Galway and Limerick during an intensive first block of preparations.
With Schmidt likely to bring four second rows to the World Cup, and James Ryan, Iain Henderson and Devin Toner nailed on for three of the berths, that leaves Kleyn, Beirne and Ultan Dillane potentially vying for that final seat.
“It is something I have realised, the higher up in rugby you get the nicer the people are,” Kleyn continues. “You have to be a good guy to survive a team environment. All the lads have been very welcoming to me. It has been a very easy transition for me to make.