Wednesday 22 November 2017

Injury blow will not stop powerhouse making a big impact

Facing two months out, Kleyn hopes to be ready to return for team's late-season drive

Jean Kleyn in action for Munster in a lineout.
Jean Kleyn in action for Munster in a lineout.

Daragh Small

Jean Kleyn was on top of the world just two weeks ago. It was not because of his dominant frame, rather from being involved in Munster's brilliant success story in the Pro12 and Champions Cup this season.

He hasn't taken the back-seat approach in his first term at the province either. Standing at 6ft 8in, while weighing in excess of 19 stone, the imposing South African second-row has dominated the physical stakes in all of his games so far.

Kleyn during the game wearing a bandage.
Kleyn during the game wearing a bandage.

The 23-year-old Linden native arrived in Limerick with a big reputation, and after 13 appearances in the Munster red he hasn't disappointed his management, his team-mates or the loyal Munster faithful alike.

Kleyn began his Munster career with an injury in just his third competitive game, against Edinburgh on September 24 in the Pro12, and was out with a damaged ankle until the end of November.

However, once he returned he strung together another 10 appearances between the league and Europe, before injury cruelly struck him down again in Round 14 in Munster's bonus point 45-17 victory over Dragons at Irish Independent Park.

"I carried the ball into a tackle in the first five minutes, and my chin got caught under the other guy's shoulder," says Kleyn.

"I went chin to chest, and injured a couple of ligaments between my C6 and C7 vertebrae. That's that, but I was handled well by the team. They got me in the brace. It was one of those injuries that doesn't seem so bad at the start, but I will be out for about eight to 10 weeks with it.

"The first feeling was disappointment that I was injured, but it could have been a lot worse. There is always a worst case scenario.

"It's very frustrating seeing as it's my second injury of the season. I had an ankle injury after the first game against Edinburgh where I was out for eight weeks.

"It's annoying, but it's the game of rugby and you can't really be playing it and expecting nothing to happen. We will take it in our stride and keep working. I am sure the boys will bring it through, so I can join them towards the end of the season for a few big games."

And the Munster squad certainly can't be accused of slacking off as they lie top of the league after that win over the Welsh, and await a home quarter-final in the Champions Cup against Toulouse after the Six Nations concludes.

It's an exciting prospect to look forward to for all involved, and 15 wins in 16 games have been constructed on the back of a ferocious team work ethic - and the will to succeed.


"You are always happy when you are playing well and I like to think I was doing my job in the team. You enjoy your rugby so much more then. It has been a very good season so far, I have really been enjoying playing for Munster," said Kleyn.

"We have been very fortunate - Rassie always puts it down to our problem-solving on the pitch and that is very player-driven, which is good. But a lot of credit has to go to the medical department and the S&C staff too. It's a team effort, even the technical analysts, we are all working hard together.

"There is a lot of confidence among the boys. When you are having such a good streak you have confidence in your team-mates. If you are not having a good day the other guys will rally in behind you."

Kleyn grew up in Linden, Johannesburg, and went to school at Hoerskool Linden - a public school with around 700 students which is not one of the traditional rugby hotbeds.

The rangy lock never thought about his chances of one day becoming a professional rugby player, until he decided to go and study engineering at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

However, even then, Kleyn only wanted to play the game recreationally, before he eventually got selected in for the Western Province U-19 team in a trial match.

From there it seemed like destiny. He moved on to their U-21 side, and the following year was selected for Western Province's Vodacom Cup side. In 2014 he finally got his big break in Super Rugby with the Stormers and he also played Currie Cup with the side that brought him through.

Overall, Kleyn made 22 appearances for Western Province, and 17 for Stormers, where he worked with current Munster defence coach Jacques Nienaber.

He arrived at Munster on a three-year deal and fellow South African and Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus was quick to lavish praise on his first acquisition at the province.

Unlike Erasmus, Kleyn never featured for the Springboks. His potential eligibility for Ireland makes him an even more exciting project player to have in the IRFU system, but that is two-and-a-half years down the road.

Kleyn made his Munster debut against Scarlets in their victory at Parc y Scarlets in Round 1 of the Pro12 this season, and he is putting himself in the frame for more appearances this season.

For now he is solely focused on returning from injury for the end of the campaign, and he hopes Munster will be fighting for silverware on two fronts when his next chance arises.

"We have worked so hard as a team to get here. I am going to work so hard so I can get myself back into contention for those play-off games," he says.

"When you work really hard for something you want to be there at the end of it."

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