Paul O’Connell makes some interesting comments on Jean Kleyn following Springboks call-up

“It was close.”

Much to the surprise of many people in the rugby world, it was announced a few weeks back that Jean Kleyn had requested permission from World Rugby to represent his home nation, South Africa, despite previously being capped by Ireland.

Kleyn was brought over to Munster back in 2016, as a project player, and was called up to Ireland’s Rugby World Cup squad in 2019 soon after becoming eligible, but found his chances limited soon after that.

The second-row went on to play just five times for Ireland, but an incredible run of form last season in Munster’s URC-winning season got a lot of people talking. Kleyn was arguably Munster’s best player last season, but a call-up to Ireland was nowhere to be seen.

A World Rugby rule change allows players who have not played Test rugby for three years to switch allegiance and the Springboks came knocking, with Kleyn making his debut in the Rugby Championship last month against Australia.

So what do Ireland make of the whole situation? Forwards coach Paul O’Connell has revealed that Kleyn was indeed on their radar and “very close” to selection, but ultimately, Ireland decided to invest in their younger players.

“He was very close,” O’Connell said of Kleyn.

“He’s very experienced now, he has experienced different coaching staffs with Munster. He was part of a really successful Munster team this year and he does what he does really well.

“He’s an excellent mauler, excellent maul defender. I think his ball-handling and his defence has improved massively now in the last few years. He looked very comfortable playing for Munster. The forwards were asked a little bit more of them this year and he was very comfortable.

“It was close, it was tight, I suppose some of the guys we had in the squad already, we felt we’d invested a good bit in them already, they were a little bit younger, they were quite big men as well in their own right. He went away and he’s entitled to go for what he went for and I wish him all the best.”

Ireland’s investment in youth can be seen with 22-year-old Joe McCarthy set to make his first start against Italy this weekend. Kleyn, meanwhile, is back in the starting line-up for South Africa this weekend as they get set to take on Argentina.

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