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Jean Kleyn: I can do Ireland proud despite World Cup selection backlash

Ireland v Scotland, World Cup Pool A, Nissan Stadium, Yokohama; Sunday, 8.45am

Standing tall: Jean Kleyn isn’t letting the critics get to him
Standing tall: Jean Kleyn isn’t letting the critics get to him
Joe Schmidt has named his side to face Scotland

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Standing as tall as he does, Jean Kleyn finds it easy to rise above the storm associated with his inclusion in Ireland's World Cup squad ahead of Devin Toner. With shoulders as broad as his, it's no surprise that the criticism rolls off easily.

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Here he is, dressed in green and ready to represent his adopted nation on the biggest stage.

Whether Ireland's call comes in Sunday's opener or in one of the subsequent pool matches, the South African powerhouse is determined to repay the faith shown in him by Joe Schmidt and represent those most special to him.

Some people won't be happy, particularly given that he qualified to play for Ireland just a month ago, but Kleyn is not worried.

"I'd say there was always going to be a bit of a backlash," he said at Ireland's new team base in Yokohama yesterday.

"I don't read it, and I try not to read into it too much. I'm here to do a job and hopefully I can do that well."

Kleyn's emergence as an option for Schmidt just in time for Japan didn't just happen by accident.

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Normally, a signing from South Africa waits until the conclusion of his Currie Cup commitments and joins in November, but the IRFU made sure he was able to move to Munster in August 2016 so that his three-year incubation period would be up just in time.

A bright man, he was of course aware of the implications, but it is one thing being qualified and another earning a spot ahead of a quality field of second-rows.

"It did happen faster than I thought it would," he admitted.

"I was brought over before the Currie Cup. Back then it was mentioned but I never thought I would even make it into the training group never mind the actual 31-man squad.

"So it's been brilliant. It's been a tremendous experience for me, and I think it's going to be a tremendous experience for the next - hopefully - seven weeks, as we go forward."

He was, of course, signed by Rassie Erasmus, whose path he might cross later in the tournament. The current Springbok coach identified the Stormer's potential and made him one of his first signings when he took over the reins at Munster, but Kleyn insists there were no representations made to make a return trip once Erasmus changed jobs to take over in South Africa.

Indeed, he says the answer would have been a firm no if any call had come.

"I think Rassie was well aware of the fact that when I came, I came for good," he said with a smile.

"I'd have no ambition to go back to South Africa to play rugby, so no, I was never approached by Rassie, no.

"I think just when you get to Ireland you realise the lifestyle is so brilliant, it's so good, and obviously it's just I sort of figured that if I was coming over I couldn't have the thought that I'd go back some day. If I did that, then I'd get a year into it and be homesick, whereas when I committed, I committed fully.

"I basically came over with my entire life packed into three bags and that was it for me. I knew that was going to be it for at least the near future, if not the indefinite future."

Kleyn's old boss and his team kick off their tournament in the same city on Saturday, but their preparations have been clouded by the news of winger Aphiwe Dyantyi's failed drugs test and accusations that South African rugby has a major issue with doping.

Having come through the system in the Rainbow Nation, the Ireland second-row was asked for his thoughts.

"I wouldn't have any particular views on that. I think doping is wrong, I make no qualms about it. I think it's wrong and it shouldn't be done," he said.

"Saying that South Africa has a problem? There have been a few cases over the last few years, but there's a few cases everywhere. It comes out everywhere, except not as much in Ireland really. So I suppose everybody except Ireland.

"That's pretty much all I have to say about it."

His focus is very much on performing at this World Cup - a path that could take him into direct contact with his old mates from back home.

They're not to be worried about just yet, however, because he has committed fully to the green jersey.

Wearing it for the first time against Italy in a warm-up last month was a special moment and he's excited to do it again in Japan.

"It was absolutely brilliant, it was a real experience to have all that work come to realisation and to know that there's people out there I'm representing who really put a lot of work into me as well, personally," he recalled.

"It's good to know that and it was brilliant being able to run out for Ireland.

"Family, coaches, my girlfriend Aisling, everyone I interact with on a daily basis and plays a part in your development as a person and a player. Everyone that ever had a finger in the pie.

"It's a great honour to represent my adopted country. You sit and wait for the phone call and when you get the acceptance email it's brilliant.

"Three years of hard work has paid off. Hopefully I can do Ireland proud now."

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