Jean Kleyn is adamant Munster can hit the ground running in Europe when they open the new Heineken Champions Cup campaign at Exeter Chiefs on Saturday.
The province may still be without an away win in the PRO14 this season after losses in Glasgow, Cardiff and at Leinster but the South African lock is confident that his team’s development over the past 12 months and a first pre-season under head coach Johann van Graan is on the brink of paying dividends.
Kleyn, 25, has joined the chorus of positive reviews from inside the camp following a 30-22 defeat at Aviva Stadium on Saturday night, putting the reverse to last season’s double winners down to easily-healed, self-inflicted wounds. And compared to this time 12 months ago, when Munster were preparing under Rassie Erasmus to face Castres in France on the back of a 23-17 loss at Leinster, he is heartily encouraged.
“I think we’ve grown a lot as a team in terms of our team culture, relationships, stuff like that. We’re stronger within the team, we’ve got great depth in the team as well,” Kleyn said. “It’s all going to pay off from this weekend onwards.
We got a taste of it (last) weekend, we played pretty well, made a few crucial errors in their 22 which ultimately cost us the game. You can make excuses all you want, but it was the mistakes we made that cost us against Leinster.
“I think we are growing into it, getting better every week and we’ll hit our stride this week and hopefully there’ll be no stopping us.”
That is bullish talk heading to Sandy Park, home of the current and unbeaten English Premiership table-toppers. The Chiefs have won six out of six so far this season, collecting five bonus points along the way.
Yet Kleyn is in a good place right now, his form trending in the right direction and his future secure after signing a new three-year contract last month to keep him at Munster until at least the summer of 2022, a deal which will also see him qualify to play for Ireland next September.
Talk of international recognition by his adopted country remains under wraps with Kleyn but he said he had never considered a return to South Africa, even with former boss Erasmus now leading a Springbok resurgence.
“No, I said it when I moved over a couple of years ago. I wasn’t moving over with the aspirations of moving back (to South Africa), I was moving over knowing my career would probably be here for the next 10 years ago and hopefully I can achieve that.”
Kleyn certainly has the engine to fulfil his objectives having played in all six PRO14 games to date, starting four of them. Exeter away this weekend represents a similar step up in class to Leinster.
“They have conceded the least amount of tries (in the Premiership) and they have scored the most tries so they’re a very good side and I think, on the day, I think it’s going to come down to physically dominating them between the four white lines, that’s probably where a lot of games are won.
We would love to do that but it’s about discipline as well. They look for you, when they defend a lot of phases, they want you to cough it up, to make a mistake and also their attack, they will attack and attack and attack and wait for you to make a mistake and that is where they capitalise.
“So it’s all about discipline for us, not just penalties but also discipline in defence, making your tackles, getting up, reloading, so I’d say there will be a lot of focus on that this week.”
The second row believes playing the Chiefs in pre-season at Musgrave Park has given the coaching staff a good insight into the Chiefs.
Munster were beaten 12-0 in Cork by Rob Baxter’s side, yet it was a game of two halves as Kleyn and company dominated proceedings without finding a cutting edge in a scoreless second period.
“I think we got a good feel for what their gameplan is, which is a good thing. We have come up against them and we have got a good measure of them, so will see how this weekend goes.
“I think we’ve done a lot of review on them, the coaches have been looking at them for a while and we’ve been reviewing them this week. We have a game plan, we know what they’re going to bring, it’s how we cope, how we impose our game plan on them.”