Wednesday 21 August 2019

Jean Kleyn offers fresh option for Ireland in undervalued tighthead position

Ireland lock Jean Kleyn with girlfriend Aisling Kelly. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Ireland lock Jean Kleyn with girlfriend Aisling Kelly. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

In an era of all-action Irish locks, recognising the importance of the less flashy powerhouse appears to be becoming less and less.

The likes of James Ryan, Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne will invariably come up with at least one vital moment, but that doesn't mean it has to be the case for the man playing alongside them in the engine room.

Much the same as it generally is with props, the role of a tighthead lock is to provide the bulk and power through the scrum whilst getting through mountains of unseen work around the pitch, particularly around the ruck area.

Ryan is the exception to the rule on these shores in that he is being primed for that tighthead role and is still able to catch the eye almost every time he takes to the pitch.

Quinn Roux has often been an easy target for criticism in that regard, but as we have previously highlighted in these pages, the stats often tell a different story compared to a first live viewing of a player.

Following Saturday's win over Italy, there was a suggestion in some quarters that we were veering back towards that misguided view when it comes to Jean Kleyn.

The Munster lock has essentially replaced Roux in the Ireland squad and has been asked to come in and perform the same role, only better.

Joe Schmidt has always fancied a stocky tighthead lock, which is why, much to the bafflement of some supporters, Roux was regularly included in Ireland squads.

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Kleyn's debut wasn't perfect, then again neither was any aspect of Ireland's understandably scrappy first outing of pre-season, but pore over the footage again and you will see that the 25-year old did plenty of things well.

He will be the first to put his hands up and accept his share of the responsibility for Ireland's maul defence, which was poor on too many occasions.

Kleyn still faces an uphill task to book his plane ticket to Japan, but it would be foolish to write him off after one game because he didn't produce the same kind of explosive moments that other, more mobile locks, manage.

It seems likely that Schmidt will have another look at Kleyn in the coming weeks, and it is worth remembering, that for all the undoubted quality in Ireland's second-row department, he offers something very different.

Scars

As he made his way into the mixed zone afterwards, the battle scars were evident above his eye after having it neatly stitched back together.

"The doctors were saying it will make for a good story," he laughed.

"'Where did you get that scar?' 'Playing my first cap for Ireland.'"

Since arriving in Limerick from South Africa three years ago, Kleyn has bought into the Irish way of life and although he has publicly kept his cards close to his chest, privately he had made no secret of his desire to play for Ireland as soon as he became eligible.

"I made a lot of sacrifices to get to a point and then when it finally gets there, you realise that it was all worth it. To play for my second home, my adopted country, it's been an incredible honour and a privilege.

"When I first came here, I said 'This is where I am going to be.' Now I have got a missus from Galway and dogs that are from Buttevant, so I'd say I am becoming more and more Irish by the day."

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