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'You meet them and you're like, 'I don't really hate you as much as I used to!''

Munster man Jean Kleyn is looking forward to another physical battle against Saracens.

BEING BROUGHT INTO the Ireland fold over the summer and on into the World Cup was an educational experience for Munster lock Jean Kleyn in more ways than one.

The South African native became part of Joe Schmidt’s set-up for the start of the World Cup pre-season and made his Ireland debut against Italy in August, just days after qualifying to play for his adopted nation under the residency rule.

Kleyn naturally had huge amounts of learning to do in order to bring himself up to speed on Schmidt’s systems and demands but he did enough to earn the nod to travel to Japan as part of the Ireland squad.

jean-kleyn Jean Kleyn made his Ireland debut this year. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

In the end, the 26-year-old only made two appearances, starting against Russia and coming off the bench versus Samoa, but he reflects on involvement in the World Cup as a positive experience, despite the collective dejection at a heavy quarter-final defeat to the All Blacks.

The World Cup also allowed him to gain a new appreciation for players who had been rivals up until very recently.

“I don’t think you can look at it just that way [in light of the All Blacks defeat],” says Kleyn of his World Cup.

“I think there was a lot of enjoyment to be had, it was an amazing experience for me personally. Being quite new to the set-up it was a massive privilege to go.

“The country is a spectacular place, even though we only had a few days off. The things you do get to see during that time was incredible, it was a great experience.

“The time spent with the lads was also very good, getting to know a lot of the guys from the other provinces. When they’re the opposition, you have an idea in your head about who and how they are, then you meet them in person and they’re part of your team and you’re like, ‘Ah… I don’t really hate you as much as I used to!’

“Once you get to know the lads they’re all good lads, it was good craic getting to know them.”

Asked if he also managed to make friends with Andy Farrell, who has stepped up from defence coach to the head coach role to succeed Schmidt, Kleyn smiles.

“I tried my best, we’ll see!”

james-ryan-jean-kleyn-and-josh-van-der-flier Kleyn enjoyed getting to know players from other provinces. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The big lock is obviously keen to add to his five Ireland caps as Farrell’s reign kicks off with the 2020 Six Nations, but Kleyn appreciates that proving his point with Munster is the most important thing he can do in order to achieve that goal.

Excelling against a team like Saracens would certainly be a positive step for Kleyn, with Saturday’s clash at Allianz Park against the European champions providing him with another opportunity to go head-to-head with some of the best forwards in the game.

Handily enough, Kleyn adores the kind of physical, niggly, aggressive confrontation that Saracens provide.

“I do enjoy the games against the English sides, Saracens and Exeter, because they are hard as nails and it’s good fun at the end of the day,” said Kleyn.

“It is all in the spirit of the sport and all that stuff, but it is a good challenge. It is a good physical challenge. You get to put in some hard hits and sometimes some hard hits get put into you.

“It is all good but it is something I enjoy. I enjoyed last weekend’s game and hopefully I will enjoy Saturday’s game coming.”

Kleyn and Munster are expecting the likes of England internationals George Kruis and Jamie George, who were rested for last weekend’s tie in Thomond Park, to be back in the mix on Saturday, ensuring Johann van Graan’s team face a massive task.

peter-omahony-celebrates-his-try-with-jean-kleyn-and-tadhg-beirne Kleyn is relishing a physical battle in Allianz Park. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“We will handle them,” is Kleyn’s succinct answer to a question on how Munster’s pack will deal with any returning big units in the Sarries forward pack.

He does also underline that the Premiership outfit are not just about pure size.

“They are a world-class side, they showed that when they won the Premiership and the European Cup earlier this year, so you can’t just put it down to size. Their players are skilful and well-drilled.

“They are good players, you can’t just put it down to size. I would say their size does have an influence because there is a few big fellas in there. But I am bigger than a lot of the players I play against and sometimes you don’t come out on the good end of every collision.

“It is all about just handling it effectively and within the team.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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