Sean McMahon reporting from Yokohama.
The selection of Jean Kleyn in Joe Schmidt’s 31-man Ireland for the 2019 Rugby World Cup has been one of the biggest talking points over the last few weeks.
The South African born lock qualified to play for Ireland just two days before he made his international debut against Italy in what was the first warm-up game of the summer.
Since then, Kleyn has gone on to win two further caps against England and Wales and in some people’s eyes, he is expected to start alongside James Ryan in the engine room for Ireland’s Pool A opener with Scotland on Sunday.
Everyone has an opinion on the matter but it’s fair to say that some of the criticism which has been directed towards Kleyn has been harsh and often, vitriolic.
The 26-year-old, of course, has qualified via World Rugby’s residency rule which has subsequently been moved up to five years but Kleyn arrived to these shores in 2016, meaning the three-year rule applied.
An unfair narrative surrounding the Munster lock who saw the culmination of three years of hard work rewarded with an international cap but he’s taking it all in his stride in his typically laid back manner.
“I’d say there was always going to be a bit of backlash,” Kleyn said at Ireland’s team hotel in Yokohama.
“I don’t read it. And I try not to read into it too much. I’m here to do a job and hopefully, I can do that well.”
Reflecting on his debut, Kleyn admits that it was also a way to reward those who he interacts with every day – family, coaches, girlfriend, friends – they’ve all played a part in getting him to where he is today.
“It was absolutely brilliant, it was a real experience to have all that work come to realisation and to know that there are people out there I’m representing who really put a lot of work into me as well, personally.
“It’s good to know that and it was brilliant being able to run out for Ireland. Family, coaches, my girlfriend Aisling, everyone I interact with on a daily basis and plays a part in your development as a person and a player – everyone that ever had a finger in the pie.”
The step-up between provincial and international rugby has been well documented and in Schmidt’s environment, it’s even more glaring and although Kleyn knew beforehand with regards to just how meticulous you need to be in this new environment, it still caught him by surprise.
“The work that’s been done with me, the coaches down at Munster, and then obviously these last two-and-a-half or three months, the coaches here in the national camp, I’d say even in that time period I’ve changed.
“I’d like to think I’m slightly better. I think I’m more of a rugby player now in the sense of not being afraid to catch and pass the ball. I like to actually play the game now instead of just running from ruck to ruck. It makes the game slightly more interesting.”
“I’d say more than I expected. Everyone always says it’s very detail-focused in the Ireland camp, but it’s really detail-focused, you know? But I was expecting it would be different.
“You’ve got the 31 best players in Ireland and they’re all striving to be at their absolute best. There’s no room for error and there’s not much allowance for it either, so you’ve got to be at your best the whole time, which is a good environment to be in.”