‘I came to Ireland with my entire life packed into three bags’

‘I came to Ireland with my entire life packed into three bags’
Jean Kleyn, at the Yokohama Bay Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Yokohama, Japan, says: ‘I think I’m more of a rugby player now in the sense of not being afraid to catch and pass the ball. I like to actually play the game now instead of just running from ruck to ruck.’ Picture: Brendan Moran.

Strip aside the debate over whether or not Jean Kleyn’s three years in Ireland should have been enough to earn selection for Joe Schmidt’s World Cup squad and there was the question as to whether the Munster lock was simply good enough to have made it instead of Devin Toner.

Plenty have suggested that Kleyn’s form with Munster, and with Ireland since he qualified ahead of the first warm-up game last month, has not been of a high enough standard but the man himself believes he is already a better player just for the few months under Joe Schmidt’s wing.

“I’d say immensely different,” he explained at the team’s latest HQ. “The work that’s been done with me, the coaches down at Munster, and then obviously these last two and a half-three months, the coaches here with the national camp, I’d say even in that time period I’ve changed.”

How so, exactly?

“I’d like to think I’m slightly better. I think I’m more of a rugby player now in the sense of not being afraid to catch and pass the ball. I like to actually play the game now instead of just running from ruck to ruck. It makes the game slightly more interesting.”

Kleyn had heard about the meticulous attention to detail in Ireland camp but he was clearly taken aback by the extent of that when he reported for duty back in June. The lazy perception was that fellow South African CJ Stander probably took him under his wing. Not so.

To be honest man, I’d say the first six to eight weeks, the way camp was structured, we barely saw each other. I was left to sort of fend for myself. But to be honest everyone has been so good, so inclusive from the start. There really isn’t a bad bloke here.

The carrot of a World Cup chance was waved in front of him when he was persuaded to swerve the Currie Cup and get to Ireland that bit earlier so the three-year residency rule would kick in before this tournament but he still didn’t expect this elevation to happen so suddenly.

It may be that he doesn’t make the 23 for Sunday’s meeting with Scotland but Kleyn will feature here in Japan and he has already had to deal with some diversity given his selection ahead of Devin Toner prompted so much discussion given his birth cert and accent.

“I’d say there was always going to be a bit of backlash,” he said of that. “I don’t read it. And I try not to read into it too much.

“I’m here to do a job and hopefully I can do that well.”

Playing for Ireland may not have been his dream growing up but it monopolised his thoughts when he moved.

From that point on he claims to have committed to a different hue of green.

There was never any text from current Springbok boss Rassie Erasmus to see if he might consider sticking with South Africa and, he added pointedly, his old Munster head coach would have known there was no point in even trying as Kleyn’s path was fixed.

But why so certain?

“I think just when you get to Ireland you realise the lifestyle is so brilliant, it’s so good, and obviously it’s just I sort of figured that if I was coming over I couldn’t have the thought that I’d go back some day,” he explained.

“If I did that, then I’d get a year into it and be homesick, whereas when I committed I committed fully.

“I basically came over with my entire life packed into three bags and that was it for me. I knew that was going to be it for at least the near future, if not the indefinite future.”

Kleyn left behind his life in South Africa and, on the evidence of a spate of failed drug tests at schools and elite professional level in recent years, a system that has serious questions to answer about the culture in the game and what is and isn’t being done to combat it.

“I wouldn’t have any particular views on that,” he said. “Doping is wrong, I make no qualms about it. I think it’s wrong and it shouldn’t be done.

Saying that South Africa has a problem? There has been a few cases over the last few years, but there’s a few cases everywhere.

"It comes out everywhere, except not as much in Ireland, really. So, I suppose everybody except Ireland. That’s pretty much all I have to say about it.”


More on this topic

Day 31 at the Rugby World Cup: Ireland, Wales and England set for crucial quarter-final clashesDay 31 at the Rugby World Cup: Ireland, Wales and England set for crucial quarter-final clashes

Malcolm O'Kelly: Discipline to decide Ireland's quarter-finalMalcolm O'Kelly: Discipline to decide Ireland's quarter-final

Japan boss Joseph ready for live show after earlier ‘rehearsal’Japan boss Joseph ready for live show after earlier ‘rehearsal’

Rugby World Cup Podcast: Buying into the confidence in the air around Irish campRugby World Cup Podcast: Buying into the confidence in the air around Irish camp