Monday 16 September 2019

Cian Tracey: ''Solid' Kleyn going about his business quietly but effectively'

Giant lock can offer Ireland something very different in the World Cup trenches of Japan

Ireland's Jean Kleyn. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ireland's Jean Kleyn. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

After a testing week that should have been the happiest of his career, Jean Kleyn probably lay awake on Friday night thinking about how important it was that he delivered a good performance and why he needed to get off to a good start early on against Wales the next day.

Conceding a penalty after 56 seconds was hardly what he had dreamed of and then, when he followed it up by not taking Rory Best's first lineout throw, the focus on Kleyn became even more intense.

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One of the golden rules of every Joe Schmidt team is that you do not cough up silly penalties, but given Kleyn's eagerness to get off the line and make a positive early impression, his over-exuberance could be forgiven.

The lost lineout could be put down to any number of reasons - Best's throw, the lift on Kleyn, James Ryan's call. That said, Kleyn's lack of mobility (due to his bulk) in the lineout is a concern.

For all of that, the manner in which he reacted to the two early blips will have pleased Schmidt. An intercept on George North wide on the right followed the penalty concession while just after the wobbly lineout, Kleyn smashed Jake Ball in a tackle.

From there, he grew into the game and if you followed the Munster lock closely enough for the 53 minutes he was on the pitch, his impact was clear to see. Like his first two Ireland caps, Saturday's display against Wales was not without its flaws, but it was a significant improvement that showcased many of the reasons why Schmidt has picked him.

As Ireland crank up the pressure just after half-time, they enjoy a decent spell of possession deep inside the Wales 22. The home side move through the phases as Justin Tipuric sniffs
around the breakdown looking to force the crucial turnover. Jean Kleyn recognises that and ferociously clears Tipuric (yellow) out of the ruck, which allows clean ball for Conor Murray.
As Ireland crank up the pressure just after half-time, they enjoy a decent spell of possession deep inside the Wales 22. The home side move through the phases as Justin Tipuric sniffs around the breakdown looking to force the crucial turnover. Jean Kleyn recognises that and ferociously clears Tipuric (yellow) out of the ruck, which allows clean ball for Conor Murray.
A couple of phases later, an almost identical scenario unfolds as Tipuric, who is Wales’ greatest jackal threat at the breakdown, again goes for the poach. Kleyn is quick to spot the danger that the trademark blue scrumcap poses and once again, he hammers Tipuric off the ball and Ireland almost get over for a try two phases later, but for James Ryan being held up over the line.
From the resulting scrum, Ireland keep their foot on Wales’ throat and build another attack. This time Kleyn shows his awareness to assist Ryan in powering CJ Stander into contact. The Munster lock uses all 121kg of his bulk to help Stander make the carry, which again puts Ireland on the front foot.
Ireland stay patient and maintain the relentless pressure. Ryan again goes close and is helped by his second-row partner who latches onto him and stops Alun Wyn Jones making a dominant hit. From there, the Welsh defence is out on their feet and they can no longer hold out as Tadhg Furlong crashes over for a try from the very next phase. It may not be pretty, but Kleyn’s work in the loose was certainly effective.

By half-time, Kleyn was Ireland's top tackler and it is important to note that the majority of them were dominant hits, which meant that it knocked the stuffing out of Wales.

A 12th-minute choke tackle on Josh Adams highlighted his forceful nature in the contact area. For such a powerful man, that should be second nature to the 26-year-old, yet he is still finding his feet at this level.

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Kleyn will have been annoyed that he got turned over too easily before the break, while he was also pinged for coming in at the side.

These little things add up, particularly for a coach as meticulous as Schmidt. The Ireland coach was pleased with Kleyn's display, but said that he wants to see more from him.

"Solid, not spectacular," was Schmidt's neat summation.

"Making tackles - hitting good solid tackles. He's a good man for us in the engine room. He can carry okay as well. He is a big man.

"He hasn't had that many opportunities but we are trying to build that profile, just get him more confident that he can offer himself as a ball-carrier, that he can be getting off the line and adding value defensively.

"I think he does. Right from that first game (Italy), if you look back at that first 15 minutes, he makes a couple of big tackles where he hits big men back. When your big men are doing that, it gives you an advantage line and it gives you a little bit of confidence in your step and in the guys who are being dragged forward with them."

When Schmidt speaks about wanting to see Kleyn become a more potent carrier, his case is backed up by the fact that he only made two metres for four carries.

Most supporters will then have looked at Iain Henderson's all-action display off the bench or James Ryan, who was immense. Yet, one of the main reasons that Kleyn has been drafted in is for his relentless rucking and his power at scrum time.

Ryan has been groomed as a tighthead lock, but with Kleyn starting, Ryan switched back to the loose and thrived in the freedom.

Kleyn's understanding with Tadhg Furlong, who he packed down behind in the scrum, was furthered and Schmidt now faces a tough decision for the World Cup opener against Scotland.

Ireland will look to bully Scotland up front and, from that end, it would be no surprise if Kleyn starts and is asked to hit everything that moves at the breakdown. Henderson's impressive cameo off the bench may work against him as Schmidt knows how big of an impact he can have against a tiring defence late on.

Kleyn's work around the ruck was again through the roof as more times than not, he was the first on the scene to clear out the red jerseys and provide front-foot ball.

As we highlighted above, his work in the build up to Furlong's try was indicative of the kind of things that often go unseen on first view, but are nevertheless vital.

Kleyn is exactly the kind of player who team-mates appreciate more than anyone because that level of dirty work is very much the unglamorous part of the game.

Appreciate

CJ Stander can certainly appreciate Kleyn's role in the team.

"He is someone who puts his head down and works hard. He is very aggressive in the game, very physical. He is a guy who switches off completely from that (outside criticism) and makes sure that he brings his best. He played unbelievably well. There a lot of positives but the thing about it is, you always look at the negative ones. It's the same thing with Bundee (Aki). Just make sure you keep your head down, work hard, perform for the jersey and show it means something to you."

Kleyn wasn't picked to be an all-singing, all-dancing lock. But he will be the first to admit that he needs to bring his game to another level.

Last Saturday was another step in the right direction as Kleyn continued to go about his business quietly, but effectively.

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