'Two tough losses but you learn from your mistakes'
The Big Interview: Jean Kleyn
Jean Kleyn feels right at home with his two dogs Rambo and Heidi in Limerick, and Christmas 2017 afforded him a first opportunity to welcome family over for the festive period.
The 24-year-old Johannesburg native is in his second season with Munster and his performances on the pitch suggest a young man who has grown in stature and who is ready to lead his adopted province forward.
And although his pair of foot beagles keep him company, it was special to see some very familiar faces before 2018 kicked off on the pitch.
"I had a lot of family over. My brother and his wife, father and stepmother, and the two children were over. It was lovely having them here for Christmas and New Year," says Kleyn.
"It was a team effort to cook the Christmas dinner. It was a very special time for me because it was my first chance to spend a Christmas here in Ireland with my family. It was wonderful from that point of view.
"I don't really feel like I am going home when I go back to South Africa anymore. I feel like I am coming home when I come back to Ireland.
"I have got a house of my own and the two dogs so it really does feel like home."
Born and raised in Linden, Kleyn attended Hoerskool Linden and his interest in rugby didn't peak until he was at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape province, where he studied engineering.
Kleyn was eventually drafted into the Western Province U-19 team and that began his journey towards Super Rugby, where he starred for the Stormers.
His Super Rugby career began in 2014 and he made 17 appearances for the Cape Town franchise before he was snapped up by Munster on a three-year contract.
Kleyn made his Munster debut away to Scarlets at the beginning of 2016-'17 and despite some injury setbacks along the way, he has found his feet in a competitive second-row unit.
"I had a very good return in my first couple of games this season and I really enjoyed it. Then I had that minor setback against Glasgow with the nerve injury," he says.
"But after that I have been slowly getting back into the game. I still have a little bit of a niggle every now and again. But I am happy with how the season is progressing from a personal perspective.
"I am glad to be playing a bit more rugby than last season."
Kleyn made nine starts in his first season for Munster but has already topped that with 11 in the current campaign including four tries in his first three games.
The Munster second-row has been depleted massively in recent years with the exit of Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan and Donnacha Ryan, and Kleyn has had to fill the breach.
Injury has made it even more difficult and the likes of academy youngster Fineen Wycherley has been given a chance. But after two derby defeats over the festive period, Kleyn is confident Munster are over the worst.
"We are slowly starting to get our injured boys back. It's good. We have got Darren O'Shea back and Gerbrandt Grobler is making his return soon hopefully and Dave O'Callaghan as well," says Kleyn.
"We are starting to get a bit of our depth back. Billy Holland has been playing a lot of rugby this season hopefully he can get a bit of a rest. The second-row, we have got some strong options coming up over the next couple of weeks."
Johann van Graan had the perfect start to life as Munster coach, where he watched on as his side thumped Ospreys at Irish Independent Park before back-to-back victories over Leicester Tigers in the Champions Cup.
But the Guinness PRO14 losses to Leinster and Ulster hit Munster hard and Kleyn knows he and his team-mates must respond emphatically with this weekend's big fixture against Connacht before the venture back into Europe.
"There is always a little bit of pressure when you are coming off of a loss especially for a derby game like this. And you don't want to turn it into a habit," says Kleyn.
"There will be a bit of pressure but it's a different team, different week, different set-up. Hopefully we can pull this one off, I am optimistic that we can beat Connacht.
"It's more of a case that we lost the last two inter-provincial games. They were tough, but against good sides. Leinster are a very good competitive side. Ulster are great too, especially playing them away at Kingspan.
"It was two tough defeats but we just have to take it on the chin and move on. There is no use in crying over spilled milk. We have to take the learnings from this game and not make the same mistakes again next time around.
"But every team goes through dips and peaks. Hopefully we will be coming out of this stronger. You learn from your mistakes.
"We have been very blessed with how we are going in Europe. We have done quite well there so far this season. We still have two massive fixtures against Racing 92 and Castres to go, and Racing are still right in the mix. That home quarter-final is not a cut and dried case. But we have a nice base to carry that on right through the season.
"Any time there is a home quarter-final it just gives you that little bit of an advantage. At Munster we get a bit more from Thomond Park too.
"We have a serious fan base no matter where we play, but Limerick is a good place to play."
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