Coetzee: Late bloomer Kleyn was right to leave Boks

Fifteen minutes after hanging up, Allister Coetzee rings back, eager to share one last thought.

Coetzee: Late bloomer Kleyn was right to leave Boks

Fifteen minutes after hanging up, Allister Coetzee rings back, eager to share one last thought.

“If Jean plays against the Boks in the quarter-final, can you imagine... it would be like Jofra Archer bowling against the West Indies... a Barbados kid playing against them, it would just bring that extra excitement, you could imagine the boos...”

The former South Africa head coach took some time out from a break in the bushveldt to talk about his former player, the now Munster and Ireland forward Jean Kleyn.

Kleyn and Coetzee worked together at Western Province and then the Stormers in South Africa, before Rassie Erasmus — Coetzee’s successor — tempted him to Limerick.

A “late bloomer”, as the player himself would concede, Coetzee quickly saw talent in the big lock when he first spotted him in action for the Western Province U21s.

“He didn’t do schools rugby or play in Craven week etc, so the first time I saw him was in training when our Currie Cup side trained against the U21 side,” he said.

“He was a late bloomer, definitely a late bloomer, but a very clever boy, and a typical front lock.

“He’s a very hard-nosed player, he likes to do the hard work and even when he was young he wasn’t fazed playing against the likes of Schalk Burger or Duane Vermuelen, he’s not fazed to get into the physical stuff.

“I’d say he’s a very attritional player, but that’s why he was rated. In South Africa you have typical front locks with Bakkies Botha as a template, and then Eben Etzebeth... Jean was one of those.

“He immediately got a break in Currie Cup because of a few injuries, and quickly became part and parcel of the squad. Him and Quinn Roux, with Quinn ahead of him at that stage.”

Roux has dropped down the Ireland pecking order, having been part of the squad that toured Japan two summers ago, but Kleyn is still in the hunt for a trip east next month, having played against both Italy and England in recent weeks.

Coetzee, now head coach of Canon Eagles in Japan’s Top League, will be in pre-season mode when the World Cup gets underway, but is excited to see Kleyn in the lighter green shirt next month.

South Africa has become used to losing players to wealthy clubs in the northern hemisphere, but Coetzee is not bitter about the likes of Kleyn taking advantage of rugby’s residency law that allowed him to declare for Ireland after three years with Munster.

Fortunately for South Africa, we’ve never a problem with locks, I don’t know where they fall from but it’s one position that there’s never a lack of — the physique of our rugby players, they’re naturally big boys.

“Being a late bloomer like Jean is not a help when you have to push through the ranks. Stormers were really fortunate to have a good crop of forwards when he was there, so that’s why players like him and Quinn were always up against it.

“You can’t blame younger players if there are really top quality guys ahead of them — some are prepared to sit behind and get their opportunity, others want to create their opportunity.”

But is it right that they can just switch country?

“We’ve a very nice democracy in our country — we have freedom of speech, there’s freedom of choice — so it is definitely up to the individual,” Coetzee says.

“If the player feels they can make a living, a new career, I’ve no problem with that. Getting an opportunity in life is important, if they back themselves, then why not?

“I’m happy for those players, really happy for them. Sometimes, it’s right place at the wrong time, playing behind so many talented players, world class players in the same position. And that’s where you have to make the decision.

“Jean’s choice was as a young player fighting to make it, and it’s about more than just rugby. It’s worked out well, for him and Quinn and CJ Stander too. They have made the right decision.”

Coetzee’s tenure as Boks coach came to a bitter end last year, with former Munster chief Erasmus taking over in controversial circumstances.

Ireland was a regular thorn in his side, with his first game as head coach in June 2017 a loss to Joe Schmidt’s men despite CJ Stander’s red card.

The Boks recovered to win that series 2-1, but later that year they suffered an embarrassing 38-3 defeat in Dublin, a result that ensured his time was up.

It was a disappointing end, but he holds no bitterness against Schmidt and Ireland.

“I’ve a good relationship with Joe, he’s a smart guy, a really good coach, he’s done a hell of a lot for Ireland,” he said.

“He has really turned things around from Ireland being happy to beat the big teams once off or to be competitive, now it’s a given. You think of Ireland winning the Six Nations so much recently, so he’s really done well.

I think they’ve got great players, and if you look at the half-back combo and their centres, they’re well stocked with talent. I’ve been really impressed with Jacob Stockdale who has come through recently, he’s really playing well.

“It’s a really well balanced side and under Joe you will always have a chance.”

We speak before Ireland’s hammering in London, but doubtless a head coach will always look to the positive potential of any team.

“I think the All Blacks are still the team to beat,” he said, “but looking at Ireland or South Africa — it will be difficult to keep them out of the final.”

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