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Kleyn 'behind the eight ball' as he bids to force his way into Schmidt's plans

The Munster second row is one of two uncapped players in Ireland’s extended World Cup training squad.

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.

Jean Kleyn 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.

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“There are a lot of Munster lads as well so that is good for me. Then all the lads from Leinster, from Ulster, from Connacht they are all spectacular fellas as well. It’s been good. Adjusting to a new set of coaching staff but they are a fantastic bunch as well. So it’s been very good for me.”

Jean Kleyn after the game Kleyn had another excellent season with Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby has been impressed with Kleyn since he linked up with the squad last month, but admits the 25-year-old ‘is being the eight-ball a bit’ in terms of forcing his way into Schmidt’s final World Cup plans.  

“I think it’s such a competitive area now, that lock position,” Easterby said. “Jean along with the other players have got a battle on their hands, and that’s what you want. You want as many players in a position like lock to be competing.

“I guess he’s behind the eight ball a bit because he hasn’t been involved before, and that’s his challenge to step up and make sure that he is across everything that we’re doing and have done for the last couple of years.

We have such quality in that position, and he along with the others have a real battle on their hands to make that 31.

For Kleyn, who recently signed a new long-term contract at Munster, the focus has been to put the head down and work as hard as he can ahead of the visit to Italy at the start of next month.

“I am very now-focused, if that makes any sense,” he adds. “Trying to work as hard as I can, put my hand up, and possibly put myself in the position to feature on one of the warm-up games if I get picked.

“For me right now it’s all about this week, today’s detail. That is how I am trying to approach it as best I can.

“It is an opportunity to compete at the highest level possible. You can argue that Ireland is probably, well it is one of the top three rugby teams in the world. At times you can argue the best. We beat the All Blacks at their best. It would be fantastic, an amazing opportunity to play for Ireland.”

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Ryan Bailey

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