Ruck-hitting, hard-scrummaging Kleyn comes into the mix for Ireland

The South African native will be eligible in time for the World Cup warm-up games.

JEAN KLEYN LIKES the physical aspects of rugby.

Tackling, carrying, rucking, scrummaging, mauling – those things are his pride and joy.

The South African native, called up to Ireland’s wider training squad ahead of the World Cup, is a bit of an old-school ‘enforcer,’ although the game has obviously changed and the kind of foul play that was once common is now close to non-existent. 

Jean Kleyn after the game Kleyn is a popular figure with Munster fans. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

If ever there is pushing and shoving, jersey grabbing or general schemozzling during a Munster game, Kleyn will be in the thick of it.

“I don’t shy away from confrontation, I always feel a bit better if we had a little scuffle in the game,” the second row told The42 last year. “If you can get into the oppositions’ heads, that’s the one place where you can influence their play in a very legal way.”

He likes leaving a physical mark on opponents too.


“You get to run into a group of lads as hard as you can, what’s there not to like!”


“I love rucks. I have to say it’s one of my favourite parts of the game. I try to make as much of a physical impact as I possibly can.”

Clearly, Joe Schmidt likes what 6ft 8ins Kleyn brings to the game too, having included the 25-year-old in the 44-man Ireland squad that will gather on 16 June to begin training ahead of the World Cup.

The uncapped Kleyn is still an outsider to be included in the final 31-man World Cup, but it will be fascinating to hear how he does in Ireland training and also to see if he gets a debut in August.

The 120kg South African native becomes eligible for Ireland on 8 August – following three years of residency on these shores – and the first World Cup warm-up game is against Italy in Dublin on 10 August.

With Kleyn included as part of a six-man group of second rows, his fellow South African native Quinn Roux, Ulster’s Kieran Treadwell, Connacht’s Gavin Thornbury and Munster’s Billy Holland are among those to miss out.

CJ Stander and Jean Kleyn after the game Kleyn with CJ Stander. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It is true that Roux and Thornbury ended the season injured and that may have been a factor, but Schmidt is a fan of Kleyn’s skillset.

He is an effective operator in the rucks and maul. He believes his handling skills have improved vastly since joining Munster, his work-rate is usually very high, and he is a powerful scrummager in the slot behind the tighthead prop – the harder of the two second row positions at the set-piece.

“You just have to give everything for 10 or 15 seconds and sometimes you get caught a little bit high and you get driven back,” said Kleyn.

“Tighthead scrummaging is about biting down and giving your tighthead prop as much as you can. There’s nothing glamorous about it.”

Schmidt has long rated Roux for similar attributes and it appears that Kleyn is a like-for-like swap in that regard, although he does not call lineouts, whereas the Connacht man does.

If Kleyn does get a first cap for Ireland this summer, it will be the latest step in a rugby career that he never even thought would transpire as he grew up in Linden, a suburb of Johannesburg.

He wasn’t in a big rugby school and went to Stellenbosch University to study Mechanical Engineering. But he played with the university’s rugby club – known as ‘Maties’ – and caught the eye of Western Province, playing for their U19 and U21 sides.

He never looked back from there and made his Super Rugby debut for the Stormers in 2014 as a 21-year-old, modelling his game on the legendary Springbok lock Bakkies Botha. 

It was Rassie Erasmus who convinced him to move to Munster in 2016 and, after a broken wrist ended his first campaign, Kleyn has been a first-choice lock for the last two seasons.

His form has been consistently strong and last year saw him extend his contract with Munster through until 2022, with Kleyn stating again at the time that playing for Ireland would be “an opportunity I would relish.”

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Billy Holland celebrates after the game with the choir and Jean Kleyn Kleyn has plenty of hard work ahead of him. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

There was concern in some quarters that Erasmus – now in charge of the Boks – would be getting on the phone again before the World Cup, asking Kleyn to play for his native nation.

But Schmidt has brought Kleyn into the mix for his adopted country instead and Kleyn could be the latest ‘project player’ off the ranks in August. 

That won’t sit well with a fair share of Ireland fans, who would prefer to see only Irish-born players in the green but this is hardly anything new.

Alongside Kleyn in this Ireland squad will be fellow South African native CJ Stander and New Zealand-born Bundee Aki, both of whom completed three years of residency to become eligible for Ireland. 

South African native Rob Herring and Australian-born tighthead qualify for Ireland through grandparents, as does the uncapped Munster fullback Mike Haley, who was born in England.

As Stander and Aki have shown, the majority of Ireland fans are willing to embrace players who become eligible through residency when they impress in green.

The hard work really only starts now for Kleyn but he has shown throughout his career that he has a voracious appetite for getting stuck in. 

Gavan Casey is joined by Murray Kinsella and Sean Farrell for a review of the 2018/19 season, and cast an eye forward to next year and the Rugby World Cup in Japan.:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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