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Game time for Kleyn a 'priority' as Beirne gets another bench chance

Joe Schmidt has pushed his Ireland squad hard at their training camp in Portugal.

JEAN KLEYN ONLY qualified for Ireland two weeks ago but already he looks like being a notable part of Joe Schmidt’s World Cup plans.

The South African native made his debut as Ireland opened their warm-up campaign with a win over Italy, with Kleyn underlining his ability to do the nuts and bolts around the pitch but also leaving room for improvement.

Jean Kleyn Kleyn starts for the second time on Saturday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Clearly, it wasn’t a first and final audition for the 25-year-old lock, with Schmidt selecting him to start alongside Iain Henderson in his second row for a second time against England at Twickenham on Saturday, with both Devin Toner and Tadhg Beirne on the bench.

“The thing is we gave him some things to work on from last time and we want to see if those can materialise on Saturday,” said Schmidt when asked if he likes what he has seen from Kleyn so far.

“Because he’s so new in, we felt that it was a priority to give him the time. It’s a fickle balance at the moment.

“Dev knows our game inside out so needed less of the time, Iain Henderson has just trained so well this week, we’re looking forward to seeing him out there and it also gives Tadhg Beirne the opportunity to be that cover-all back row, second row.

That getting more game time for Kleyn is a priority perhaps indicates how seriously Schmidt views the towering second row’s World Cup prospects, with his physicality attractive after a Six Nations campaign that saw Ireland outmuscled by England. 

The feeling just a few weeks ago was that Kleyn was in competition for a second row spot with Munster team-mate Beirne, given how central James Ryan, Henderson and Toner have been to Schmidt’s squad in recent years.

Tadhg Beirne Beirne is a replacement again this weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

But Beirne has been selected in Ireland’s number 20 shirt for the second time in a row, indicating that he may win another cap as a replacement back row. So far, Beirne has earned three Ireland caps in the second row and three as a sub blindside flanker, with the most recent of those seeing him make two eye-catching jackal turnovers against Italy.

A possible role as an impact sub for Ireland at the World Cup is certainly a possibility.

“I’m not saying he’s not good enough to start in either of those positions but he’s nice security, having him covering all five of those back five positions, albeit at 7 we’d probably need to mix and match somebody but he can cover 6, 8 or 5,” said the Ireland boss.

With England having named an impressive starting side and Ireland being close to full-strength, Saturday in London is shaping up to be quite the Test match.

While a strong performance and a win are obvious targets for Ireland, this game is still only part of a bigger picture. Even the fact that Schmidt’s men had a heavy training session on Monday – which wouldn’t happen during competition – indicates that they are as thinking about what lies ahead in Japan.

“Yeah, it’s a risk,” said Schmidt when asked if Ireland’s tough eight-day camp in Portugal could impact on energy levels against England. “But it’s a risk that we were always prepared to take because you’ve got to play the long game.

Joe Schmidt Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“There’s only one tournament this year that we have to go after and as much as Saturday is a Test match, and it’s a Test match against an old foe and they’ll be up for it, they’ve had two Test matches already, a lot of our players haven’t played yet, they may have a little bit of an advantage there… they freshened up this week and had a couple of days off at the start of the week because they’re probably a little bit ahead of us in their preparation.

“But your timing, you want to make sure that you periodise it right so that we’re on an upswing by the time we get to that 22 September game [against Scotland at the World Cup] and so a 24 August game comes a distant second.

“So for a little bit, if we’re carrying a little bit of fatigue in the legs, I’ll accept that. But I don’t think that we’ll accept it easily because we want to be a little bit competitive on Saturday but if this last eight days is good preparation for 22 September, then that’s what counts most.”

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Murray Kinsella

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