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Which players improved their chances of a World Cup place during Ireland's victory over Italy?

Ireland 29 Italy 10

Pitch battle: Jean Kleyn (left) gets to grips with Italy
Pitch battle: Jean Kleyn (left) gets to grips with Italy
Jean Kleyn celebrates with his father Johan and brother Johan
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Sporting a satisfied smile and a battle-scar above his right eyebrow, Jean Kleyn gave his first interview as an international rugby player.

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"Us... I can say us now," he laughed in the Aviva Stadium changing rooms following Ireland's 29-10 win over Italy.

With his initial exposure to Test rugby now over, the Munsterman looks odds-on to be the most unlikely story of Ireland's World Cup travelling party to Japan next month.

The 25-year-old son of Johannesburg, who joked that his growing Irish connections extend to a Galway girlfriend and dogs from Cork, qualified for his adopted country on August 8.

On September 8, that plane ticket to Yokohama may well be booked in his name.

In the very biggest games at Thomond Park, the former Stormers man hasn't always screamed World Cup bolter but Joe Schmidt has always been a coach who places great value in some specialist tight-head side beef in his engine room - see in the past his selections of Quinn Roux or even the desire to go out and get Brad Thorn on a short-term deal in his Leinster days.

Against Italy, Kleyn showed all the qualities the Kiwi will have been looking for.

His work rate was strong, his defensive qualities clear and, perhaps most importantly, with him packing down behind Andrew Porter in the first half, Italian loosehead Nicola Quaglio was given an uncomfortable day.

While James Ryan seems sure to be starting in the No.5 jersey - last season's Player of the Year is more comfortable as a loosehead lock - here was evidence of just why Kleyn was brought in so quickly and what he can bring to the party next month.

For his part, he feels getting his chance now, rather than during the week-to-week, game-to-game slog of the Six Nations, has actually been beneficial.

"The detail is immense," he said of what he's had to pick up in double-quick time. "That is one of the things that makes us, I can say us now, such a good team is the fact that we are so detailed-focused and get all small things right, so big things work.

"It's been a good journey for me. I suppose it's been better than coming into a Six Nations camp because we have actually had a pre-season.

"Things have been sort of drip fed instead of everything being lumped on you at the same time.

"It has been a more gradual process but it's definitely high on detail and high on intent. Everyone here is obviously here to win.

"There is no second guessing that or anyone's effort either. It's always good to be in an environment like that because everyone wants to be the best they can."

Who else improved their chances of a place on the plane?

Kleyn's stock has risen but he was not alone in improving his chances of making the 31-man squad.

With double-digit changes expected for the next tune-up against England a week from Saturday and only five of the starting line-up in a position to be wholly confident of their place in the panel, there was plenty up for grabs in a game that featured plenty of early-season rust.

Winger Andrew Conway was the official man of the match and, his first-half score aside, it was his kick chase and aerial battle that impressed. With Jacob Stockdale, Keith Earls, Rob Kearney and Jordan Larmour already inked in, there is at most one more spot going for the back-three and Conway, who can also play full-back, must be considered the front-runner.

Interestingly, Schmidt again alluded to the idea that World Cup squads are too small for the rigours of the tournament and, in a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, may decide that it is a case of either five back-three players or four centres rather than both.

Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose are likely to have few worries but arguably the player that most advanced their personal case was Chris Farrell.

The Fivemiletown man, now of Munster, was deployed at No.12 having played more of his rugby recently one spot further out but did well, including a delightful pull-back pass for Joey Carbery's try.

Carbery himself was impressive too before that worrying ankle sprain and while, if fit, he goes, it's possible that the futures of the three Munstermen are linked.

The only way Conway and Farrell could both travel, without of course a shock axing elsewhere, would appear to be if Schmidt, as he did four years ago, takes only five half-backs with John Cooney covering nine and 10.

Should Carbery miss significant time but not the tournament, that prospect would be increasingly unlikely. Much will hinge on the injury update expected some time before the squad head for a week-long camp in Portugal on Wednesday.

What of the Ulstermen on show?

It was a case of mixed fortunes. Rob Herring, in a three-way battle for the two hooker spots behind Rory Best, made a bright start to the contest, playing his part in the scrum dominance, but departed after just 19 minutes thanks to a back spasm.

Jordi Murphy scored his side's fourth try, essentially sealing the victory and seeing a good number of the crowd start for the exits, and Schmidt was complimentary of his back-row that also included Rhys Ruddock and Tommy O'Donnell.

Perhaps the most eye-catching loose forward contribution, though, came from Tadhg Beirne, who forced a turnover seconds after coming on and followed up with another.

While Beirne lacks the versatility in the back-row of a Murphy, his potential impact off the bench in the 20 jersey he wore on Saturday is a tantalising prospect even if he's beaten out by Kleyn for the fourth lock.

Despite being brought off at half-time so that Andrew Porter could get 20 minutes, Schmidt said he was "really happy" with Jack McGrath.

The loosehead, who will join Ulster once his World Cup involvement in finished, is a three-Test Lion but has fallen behind Dave Kilcoyne with only two specialist looseheads set to travel.

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