Word was that Jean Kleyn kept his eyes open and his mouth mostly shut during his early days in Joe Schmidt’s World Cup warm-up camp.
Named in the 45-man preliminary squad that has been beavering away behind, for the most part, closed doors since mid-June, the South African-born Munster lock becomes officially eligible for Ireland on August 8. Or, to be more pertinent, two days before the first warm-up game, against Italy at Lansdowne Road.
He faces a tough task in earning a place in the 31-man squad for Japan. Four second rows are likely to travel, and James Ryan, Devin Toner, and Iain Henderson are all but certain to get the nod. That leaves Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne, and Ultan Dillane all jostling for what may be the last position.
Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby has already admitted that Kleyn is “behind the eight ball”, given he is uncapped and just in the door. The player himself has spoken about living in the moment, but Munster team-mate Peter O’Mahony has revealed that his days of being seen rather than heard are well over.
“He’s thrown that well out the window by now,” joked O’Mahony, an Audi brand ambassador. “He’s well able to shout and roar now and give his opinion. There’s no time to get up to speed in camp. You play like you’ve been there for the last 10 years.
“There’s just no hanging around for anyone.”
Making the World Cup would amount to a remarkably swift elevation for the man from Klerksdorp, but time is on his side in terms of the bigger picture. Still only 25, he has signed on with Munster through to 2022, so it seems safe to assume that the experience he banks now will come in handy at some point down the line.
“He has lots of strong attributes,” said O’Mahony.
“I’ve played with him at Munster the last two seasons and he’s a very committed performer who gets the head down and gets through a lot of work.
“He’s very physical. He has a huge physical presence, and rugby is a physical game. He’s very good in a maul and his breakdown work is very impressive. He’s just one of those second rows who gets through a lot of work.”
Whatever the make-up of the final party, Ireland will have plenty in the way of work done by the time they take on Scotland in their Pool A opener in Yokohama on September 22. The hope is that such diligent prep, allied to the four warm-ups, will flush the remains of a disappointing Six Nations from the system.
Schmidt has pencilled in a handful of weeks off throughout the last month-and-a-half of training and analysis to date, but it is all work and no play from here through to the opener against the Azzurri.
O’Mahony says the extended build-up has been far from a chore.
“It’s rare. This is only my second time experiencing it, but it is great to be having a pre-season with Ireland, because the standard and the quality of it is obviously so high. It’s really enjoyable.
“We’ve been doing a lot of strength and conditioning up to now, but we’re transitioning a bit more to on-the-field stuff now. It’s been intense, but really, really good.”