“I Think The Higher Up In Rugby You Get, The Nicer The People Are”

New face.

Munster lock Jean Kleyn is one of only two uncapped players currently training with Ireland ahead of the World Cup, with the South African due to become eligible for the men in green in time for their first warm-up game against Italy.

The 25-year-old arrived in Ireland back in 2016 with Munster, and has gone on to become a key figure for the southern province, with his form rewarded by Joe Schmidt as he looks to make a decision on which four second-rows he brings to Japan.

But how has the experience of training with Ireland gone for Kleyn so far? We caught up with him after Ireland’s recent open training session in Thomond Park.

“It’s been a good tough five weeks.” Kleyn told us

“I think everyone is sore now, the sessions are intense. We’re training at a very high level but we’re building. It’s good to experience the environment. It’s really intense, but it’s fantastic.”

“I think it’s something I’ve realised – I think the higher up in rugby you get, the nicer the people are, because you have to be a good guy to survive in a team environment.”

“All the lads have been very welcoming to me and it’s been a very easy transition for me to make.”

The 6ft 8in second-row has been forced to sit out a number of training exercises with Ireland over the last couple of weeks, but assured us it’s nothing serious as the Ireland team look to manage a number of players in order to prevent injury ahead of Japan 2019.

“No just niggles – they tend to happen when you get it pre-season, its nothing.” Kleyn said

“It’s been a tough pre-season, you pick up a little bit of tightness here and there. It’s just managing the players, making sure they don’t pick up actual injuries that’ll keep them out for longer periods of time.”

Kleyn says the entire team is counting down to the first warm-up game against Italy and is hoping he will be given an opportunity to play and show his worth and make a case for Schmidt including him in his 31-man World Cup squad.

“I think it’s a countdown for everyone. But I’m very now focused if that makes any sense? I’m just trying to work as hard as I can and put my hand up and possibly put myself in a position to feature in one of the warm-up games if I get picked.

“For me right now it’s all about this week, it’s about today’s detail. And that’s how I’m trying to approach it as best I can.”

“I think I’m getting up to the level where I’m at a reasonable understanding of what we’re doing on the pitch – and not running around like a headless chicken. There’s a couple of really good locks and some very strong competition, but competition breeds excellence.”

With the likes of Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Devin Toner and Iain Henderson in the squad, Kleyn says he’s not confident of making the squad, but will work as hard as he can to make sure he’s noticed.

“I’m not confident of anything mate. I’m just working as hard as I can. If I put my hand up enough and I work hard enough, hopefully I’ll be recognised.“

But what would it mean for Kleyn to put on the famous green shirt?

“It’s an opportunity to compete at the highest level possible. Ireland are one of the top three rugby teams in the world, at times you can argue the best. They beat the All Blacks at their best. So it would be fantastic, it would be an amazing opportunity.”