South Africans putting Springbok into Munster’s step
CJ Stander, Jaco Taute and Jean Kleyn provide powerful framework of raw power
CJ Stander and Jean Kleyn stand shoulder to shoulder with their Munster team-mates. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
CJ Stander and Jean Kleyn during Munster’s win over Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
Munster’s Thomas du Toit: is due home for Super Rugby pre-season in February with the Sharks. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
The clearest evidence of an ever-deepening crisis in South African rugby was Rassie Erasmus being allowed to escape a crumbling Springbok regime to coach Munster.
This we now know.
“He will definitely be back,” Gold stated.
Du Toit, a serious prospect who plays both loose and tighthead, is due home for Super Rugby pre-season in February.
The Western Province Stormers will have to wait a little longer for Jaco Taute.
Even CJ Stander, in the distant future, might forsake the delights of Limerick for life back on the Western Cape.
The Irish provinces, like most French clubs, are reaping the benefit of this South African exodus becoming a flood. Ulster are banking on Arno Both and Marcel Coetzee making a similar impact in Belfast. They clearly need them as much as Munster did their recruits.
Erasmus has this habit of entering a rugby environment and delivering immediate success. It took him a single season to bring a slice of the Currie Cup to Bloemfontein for the first time since 1976. A year later he was technical adviser for the Springboks, aged just 34, when they captured the 2007 World Cup.
Erasmus expects instant achievement of himself, as he briefly admitted at the beginning of this season, and for that to occur in Munster he identified the need to construct a framework of raw power.
Stander, Taute and now Kleyn are that framework.
Young backlineAfrikaner man strength was a rational port of call for someone capped 36 times on the Springbok flank in an all too brief Test career from 1997 to 2001. And Erasmus knew exactly where to turn in August when his All Black centre Francis Saili needed shoulder surgery.
“We don’t want a player here who blocks the development of young Irish players,” said Erasmus in December. “But if you look at a guy like Rory Scannell sitting next to Jaco and how he is developing. Sam Arnold is also experiencing the same.
“Jaco is helping to develop a young backline into Irish internationals, because there is no doubt he is performing on and off the field; he helps guys around him. I think he helps a lot with Tyler Bleyendaal’s confidence and he helps a lot with Andrew Conway.
“And I think he’s just totally bought into being a Munster player. He’s proud to be a Munster player.”
Proof came in October when that naked pride poured adrenaline into an already emotionally charged Thomond Park. One belt of the chest after his try against Glasgow and Taute was forever tangled up in Munster lore.
There are other examples of what South African rugby has lost. Like his try against Leicester or the double hit to single-handedly repel a Tigers attack.
Taute, 25 now, was a fully-fledged Springbok at 21. To the manor born, he was recruited by Monument High School, the rugby nursery outside Johannesburg that moulded great Springbok centres Brendan Venter and Jaque Fourie.
Taute was on a similar path – featuring at two Under-20 World Cups before winning the last of three caps against Ireland on the November 2012 tour – until an accursed run of injuries.
The year 2014 was his only recent season of Super Rugby, when he played in the same Stormers side as Kleyn, who has experienced the exact opposite rise into professional ranks.
Brain drainThis 6ft 8in lock was educated in a less heralded Johannesburg school, gaining no underage representative honours, before entering Stellenbosch University to study engineering. In 2013 he was promoted to the Western Province Under-19 panel and eventually settled into the Super Rugby squad, effectively as Eben Etzebeth’s understudy.
The route into the Springbok engine room will always be congested and Kleyn couldn’t but notice the brain drain out of his rugby-obsessed country as Jacques Nienaber followed Erasmus north. The physio-turned-defence guru brought Kleyn along for the ride.
“I did speak to CJ before coming over, he gave me a call, out of the blue,” Kleyn said recently. “I had never talked to the guy before and he gave me a call and he was like: ‘Hey Jean, how is it?’
“I was like: ‘Sorry, who is this now?’ He is such a nice fella . . . he gave me a few pointers. It was an easy transition for me.”
Kleyn even sees Limerick as a metropolis of sorts.
“I am sort of more used to the smaller-town living, if I could put it that way. They were telling me it was a small town and I came over and it took me about 15 minutes to get into town and I was like: ‘This is not a small town.’”
Moving in with Dave Kilcoyne has shielded him from any further cultural shock.
Taute’s injury nightmares – including a burst testicle and mangled knee – have abated while Kleyn is most definitely recovered from his early-season ankle problem.
“If you leave the door open for South African players to earn euros and still be a Springbok or choose euros and not be a Springbok [but benefit from the residency rule], then the player would be crazy if he didn’t do it,” said former South Africa coach Jake White. “Because it’s the best of both worlds.”
Taute and du Toit will probably play for South Africa in the coming years while Kleyn is firmly on course to follow Stander into another hue of green jersey.
In the meantime, these men help allow Munster to be themselves again.