Munster lock Jean Kleyn to make his Ireland debut against Italy

Battle for secondrow slots intensifies as Ireland open World Cup warm-up campaign

Last chance saloon and new beginnings all rolled into the one Ireland team.

Jean Kleyn becomes an official Irishman against Italy on Saturday at the Aviva stadium when the 25-year-old South African lock wins his first cap against Conor O'Shea's Italy.

Kleyn qualifies to wear the green jersey today via the now defunct three-year residency rule. He partners Dev Toner in the secondrow with Tadhg Beirne, named on the bench as backrow cover, instantly under threat to make the 31-man cut for Japan.

"Jean's character is one that everyone took to him straight away," said incoming head coach Andy Farrell as Joe Schmidt is in New Zealand due to a family bereavement.


Iain Henderson is also among the replacements and considering the new Ulster captain, Toner and James Ryan are certain to travel the fight for locking slots is alive.

That internal battle is also evident at centre and wing with Dave Kearney, an old Schmidt favourite, returning to the starting XV for the first time since the Fiji game in November 2017 (Kearney's last truly significant match for Ireland was the 2015 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina in Cardiff). Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour make up the back three with only one of that trio potentially making the World Cup touring party.

Chris Farrell gets moved to inside centre, partnering Garry Ringrose, with Munster fullback Mike Haley in line to win his first cap off the bench.

“Those are the lucky boys to get to represent the group,” said Farrell. “Cohesion is the word we have been looking for all week really. It’s not going to be perfect, no game is, especially the first game of the season but we have to play the game as it happens, we stick to the plan. Can we adapt on the run? That’s all part of the process.

“This is a Test match,” Farrell added with that cold, hard northern English tone.

On Schmidt’s return to Dublin ahead of the weekend, Farrell said: “Joe will be back in the country soon enough. He’ll take a few days just to recoup and he’ll be in and around on Saturday.”

Will he be in charge of the team? “That’s up to Joe.”

The current 43-man panel will presumably be trimmed before Ireland head to the Algarve for training camp next week but Farrell was adamant that no player has been told this game is an all or nothing moment.

“Is that in the back of the individual’s mind? I’m sure it is.”

IRELAND (v Italy, Aviva stadium, Saturday, 2pm): Jordan Larmour (Leinster), Andrew Conway (Munster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Chris Farrell (Munster), Dave Kearney (Leinster); Joey Carbery (Munster), Luke McGrath (Leinster); Jack McGrath (Leinster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Andrew Porter (Leinster); Devin Toner (Leinster), Jean Kleyn (Munster); Rhys Ruddock (Leinster, capt), Tommy O'Donnell (Munster), Jordi Murphy (Ulster).

Replacements: Niall Scannell (Munster), Cian Healy (Leinster), John Ryan (Munster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Jack Carty (Connacht), Mike Haley (Munster).

ITALY: Edoardo Padovani (Zebre); Angelo Esposito (Zebre), Tomasso Benvenuti (Benetton), Marco Zanon (Benetton), Giulio Besigni (Zebre); Carlo Canna (Zebre), Giuglielmo Palazzani (Zebre); Nicola Quaglio (Benetton), Olivero Fabiani (Zebre), Marco Riccioni (Benetton); Allessandro Zanni (Benetton), Dean Budd (Benetton, capt); Giovanni Licata (Zebre), Maxime Mbanda (Zebre), Jimmy Tuivaiti (Zebre).
Replacements: Federico Zani (Benetton), Andrea Lovotti (Zebre), Simone Ferrari (Benetton), Marco Lazzardni (Benetton), Renato Giammarioli (Zebre), Calum Bradley (Gloucester), Ian McKinley (Benetton),  Mateo Minozzi (Wasps).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent