Kleyn ‘not confident of anything’ when it comes to making 31-man World Cup squad
The Munster lock knows he is well behind his rivals in the race to play in Japan
Jean Kleyn during Ireland training at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Kleyn and Munster teammate Mike Haley are the only uncapped players named in the 45-strong Ireland training squad ahead of September’s Rugby World Cup, and in an ultra-competition position the South African knows he is well behind his rivals in the race to play in Japan.
Second-rows Devin Toner, James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Ultan Dillane and Tadhg Beirne are also included in the current squad, which is due to be whittled down after Ireland’s final warm-up match against Wales on August 31st.
Kleyn only becomes eligible to play for Ireland on August 8th, three years after his arrival into the country, which is two days before Ireland’s opening warm-up game against Italy at Aviva Stadium.
And with Schmidt expected to bring a maximum of four second-rows to Japan, Kleyn knows his lack of time in the camp could play against him.
“I am not confident of anything. I am working as hard as I can, and if I put my hand up enough and work hard enough then hopefully I will be recognised,” said 25-year-old Kleyn.
“They [the other players] were a lot more nailed in on the detail than I was coming in. It’s been a good four, five weeks of work. I am getting up to the level where I am at a reasonable understanding of what we are doing on the pitch and not just running around like a headless chicken.
“It is getting better, but there is a couple of really good locks. It is very strong competition, but competition breeds excellence.”
Recent Irish selections suggest that Leinster duo Toner and Ryan are the first choice pairing for Ireland, but if Schmidt decides to bring an all-round powerhouse in the pack, Kleyn could yet make the cut.
Forwards’ coach Simon Easterby said he has been impressed with Kleyn since he joined the squad, but he acknowledged he faced a huge battle to make the final squad for the World Cup.
“I think it’s such a competitive area now, that lock position,” said Easterby. “Jean along with the other players have got a battle on their hands, and that’s what you want. You want as many players in a position like lock to be competing.
“I guess he’s behind the eight-ball a bit because he hasn’t been involved before, and that’s his challenge to step up and make sure that he has ,and is across everything that we’re doing and have done for the last couple of years.
“We have such quality in that position, and he along with the others have a real battle on their hands to make that 31.”
A thumb injury robbed Munster of their number four for a couple of months before Christmas last season, but he was quickly returned to the starting line-up where he continued to force an excellent partnership alongside Beirne. He also penned a contract extension with Munster last season that will see him play there until 2022.
Kleyn is one of 15 Munster players in the current squad, which has provided him with some home comforts in a strange environment, but he says he has been given a warm welcome into the squad despite the intense competition for places.
“It would be fantastic, an amazing opportunity [to play for Ireland],” said Kleyn.
“All the lads have been very welcoming to me. It has been a very easy transition for me to make. There is a lot of Munster lads as well, so that is good for me. Then all the lads from Leinster from Ulster from Connacht, they are all spectacular fellas as well.
“This is an opportunity to compete at the highest level possible. You can argue that Ireland is one of the top three rugby teams in the world. We beat the AlI Blacks at their best.
“It has been a good, tough five weeks. We are training at a fairly high level but we are building. It is good to be here and experience the environment. It is really intense, but it is fantastic.”