'His time has come': Kleyn the new enforcer in Ireland's engine room

The battle for second row positions intensifies as the Munster man gets his chance against Italy.

THIS WEEK MUST have been circled in Jean Kleyn’s diary for quite some time. 

Munster’s South African-born second row has never kept his desire to represent Ireland a secret, and on the day he officially qualified to pull on a green jersey, Kleyn was catapulted firmly into Joe Schmidt’s World Cup plans. 

Jean Kleyn Kleyn is ready to make his Ireland debut. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Exactly three years to the week he first stepped foot in Ireland, newly-qualified Kleyn will make his Ireland debut against Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, as he makes a late push for World Cup selection. 

Schmidt has wasted little time in getting the 25-year-old into his side, and this weekend will provide the Ireland head coach with a first opportunity to have a closer look at Kleyn in green, as he partners Devin Toner in the second row.

With James Ryan, Iain Henderson and Toner nailed on to be on the plane to Japan, it appears Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne are in a direct shootout for the final lock position, with the latter, now anxiously looking over his shoulder, named on the bench against Italy in the 20 jersey.

It is one of just several fascinating internal battles set to play out over the coming weeks, as Ireland get their warm-up schedule underway against Conor O’Shea’s side in Dublin, just over 40 days out from their showdown with Scotland in Yokohama.

While Kleyn remains an outsider to make the cut, on the basis that he has come into the picture so late in the day, the former Western Province and Stormers man has, by all accounts, made a big impression both on and off the field in pre-season.

A popular figure within the squad, Kleyn’s physicality and ability to carry out that ‘enforcer’ role in the Ireland engine room has no doubt caught Schmidt’s attention, and it will be fascinating to see what he can bring to the jersey on Saturday.

Through his performances for Munster over the course of the last three years, the 6ft 8in second row has shown his tackling, carrying, rucking, scrummaging and mauling strengths, while further emphasising his capacity as a powerful set-piece operator.

While Beirne has five caps to his name and has been around the set-up for the best part of two seasons, both Simon Easterby and Andy Farrell have spoken this pre-season of Kleyn’s ‘point of difference.’

With Quinn Roux left out of the extended panel and Ultan Dillane cut at the start of the week, Kleyn is now a very live option for Japan. 

“Ever since he stepped foot into a Munster jersey,” defence coach Farrell said when asked how long management have been tracking the powerful tighthead scrummaging lock. 

“We’ve obviously been tracking everyone through the country anyway. You’re always looking at everyone in the provinces and Jean made it very clear from the start that he was very keen to wear an Irish jersey. His time has come at the weekend.

Tadhg Beirne and Jean Kleyn tackle Don Armand Beirne and Kleyn are vying for a seat on the plane to Japan. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We’ve got some good locks. It’s a very attritional position for us and there could be really good players across the board that are going to miss out.”

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Kleyn won’t be burdened by lineout calling duties on debut, that responsibility falls to the fit-again Toner as he returns to a green jersey for the first time since requiring ankle surgery mid-Six Nations, but the new cap is understandably raring to go.

“I’d say he’s mad for a game in green,” Kleyn’s Munster team-mate, Andrew Conway, says.

“After the game, there will be celebrations about his first cap, but before it’s just business really. Getting your first cap is a huge deal, so it will be massively celebrated afterwards.

“He is probably a different type of player compared to most in the country in that he just loves contact. That is what he lives for — hitting rucks, hitting people.

It has been brilliant to play with him and he’s definitely driven the standard up for Munster and hopefully now he does that with Ireland with the impact that he can have in collisions.

“It’s great to be playing with guys who bring something different to the table.”

Beirne, meanwhile, has to settle for a place among the replacements as back row cover, with Ulster captain Henderson providing the second row option. The Munster man has yet to truly make his mark on the international stage, although hasn’t yet been given an extended run to push his case for selection.

“He has been throwing himself in and out of the second row and back row so we’ll see how the game goes,” Farrell added, before being pressed on what Beirne can offer in the back row. 

“Well, he’s certainly quick enough. He’s certainly quick enough on the ball, isn’t he? He gives you that extra, added lineout pressure as well. He’s quick around the field, he’s able to play the back row role very well, as we’ve seen in the past.”

Now, however, is the time to show it as the serious business begins.

The42 Rugby Weekly is back as we get ready for next month’s World Cup. Murray, Gavan and Bernard Jackman get us started by looking ahead to this weekend’s opening warm-up game against Italy.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Ryan Bailey

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