Saturday 16 February 2019

Engine-room powerhouses Beirne and Kleyn can drive Munster back to former glories

Physical presence: Jean Kleyn. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Physical presence: Jean Kleyn. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Having added some key pieces of the jigsaw last summer, things are beginning to take shape for Munster at just the right time of the season.

Joey Carbery will continue to grab the headlines as long as he continues to light up big games as he did against Gloucester last weekend while his partnership with Conor Murray continues to blossom.

Having been afforded the luxury of being able to name his first-choice backline for the first time this season, Johann van Graan can take huge satisfaction from the way his attack is now firing ahead of Saturday's decisive showdown with Exeter.

At the heart of Munster's good form in their last three games, however, has been a fired-up pack that is setting the platform for the likes of Murray and Carbery to pull the strings. Not since the days when Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan were packing down together in the engine room have Munster had a second-row pairing that were good enough to be talked about as the best in Europe.

Enter Tadhg Beirne and Jean Kleyn.

Admittedly, these are still early days in their burgeoning partnership, but even still it is difficult not to be excited about what they are capable of producing.

The signs have been positive every time they have taken to the pitch together and last Friday night at Kingsholm, Beirne and Kleyn hit new heights as they combined brilliantly to help blow Gloucester away.

They complement each other perfectly in so many ways. For starters, Kleyn brings a hard edge to the pack and certainly fits the bill as a powerful South African 'enforcer'.

The 25-year-old, who becomes Irish-qualified just before this year's World Cup, gets through so much of the unglamorous work, but crucially he seems to revel in it.

That in turn allows Beirne to get on the ball more often in open play and also go after the pill at the breakdown, where he continues to be one of the most lethal threats for poaching turnovers.

"I think that's a great spot because I think that as well," Luke Fitzgerald agreed, whilst speaking on this week's episode of The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast.

"I am really impressed with Kleyn every time I see him play. He's really physical and, as you say, he's an enforcer.

"And again, as you say, he gives Tadhg Beirne that bit of freedom to wander around because you know Kleyn is going to hit 20 or 30 rucks a match and just blast them. He's very physical defensively as well."

As well as the damage Beirne is causing when carrying the ball and at the breakdown, the 27-year-old has also taken on the extra responsibility of calling the lineout.

Up to this season, it has been a role that the reliable Billy Holland has fulfilled, but having gotten a brief taste of it towards the end of his time with the Scarlets, Beirne has now added that particular skill to his arsenal, which can only bode well for both Munster and Ireland going forward.

"Tadhg is an exceptional player," Kleyn says of his second-row partner.

"He really has stepped into the lineout calling role exceptionally well too.

"I think it is just about our entire pack working together around the lineout and knowing their detail.

"That makes Tadhg's job all the easier when he is calling, when everyone knows their cues and is ready to go.

"He is an exceptional player and he is very dangerous on attack, he runs some dangerous lines. So it is good playing with him.

"I think it (improved lineout) has come down to putting a little more emphasis on things like getting our lifts better. The setting of the maul and all that kind of stuff.

"The things we have been working on over the last few weeks. It is good that we are getting a little bit of a return out of it now, a return out of the work we have done.

"A rising tide lifts all boats and I think the Munster tide is rising over the last couple of seasons. We have been performing quite well and that is down to the coaching and also the buy-in from the players.

"Johann obviously arrived in the middle of the season and you can't go changing the entire game-plan.

"I think he has a little bit more of a free rein this year because he was able to start on a pre-season, get his entire run. It has been good.

"We have also add the addition of a few new players which has also added to the squad depth."

Munster will face another huge test of how far they have come since last season when they take on a dangerous Exeter team, as they look to secure their quarter-final place.

In Beirne and Kleyn, Johann van Graan knows that he has a formidable pairing playing in a crucial position, who are capable of driving Munster back to former glories.

After all, that key position is called the engine room for a reason.

Irish Independent

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