Jean Kleyn fulfils his childhood dream of representing the Boks at the World Cup
This will be Kleyn’s second successive appearance at a Rugby World Cup after he played for his adopted country Ireland in 2019.
Springbok lock Jean Kleyn has grabbed the chance to represent the Boks with both hands as he looks to make a mark at the World Cup. Picture: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images
Dual international Jean Kleyn is thrilled to realise a childhood dream as he prepares to represent the Springboks at the Rugby World Cup in France, kicking off next month.
This will be Kleyn’s second successive appearance at a Rugby World Cup, albeit in slightly different colours, after he played for his adopted country Ireland at the 2019 event in Japan.
Despite staying in good form since that tournament, Kleyn was not selected for the Irish again and that opened the door for the Boks to hook him back in after World Rugby changed their illegibility laws.
“This has been a crazy period of my life. A few months ago, the thought of playing for the Boks had never entered my head. I shouted ‘yes’ to Rassie (Erasmus, SA Rugby director of rugby) on the phone,” said Kleyn after the World Cup squad announcement.
“Playing for your home country is going to mean that little bit more because it is, well, home. I grew up with dreams in my head of being the next Bakkies Botha. I wasn’t hoping to play for Ireland. You talk about childhood dreams coming true and here I am standing in a Springbok blazer.”
It was Erasmus that had started Kleyn on this strange course when he lured him to Munster in 2017, with it going full circle as he was then the one to bring him back home in 2023.
“I was young and unattached, and decided to take a chance with Rassie and it worked very well for me and have been with Munster for seven years now. I have an Irish wife and a lovely home there, and playing for Ireland was an honour,” explained Kleyn.
“Then in May, I got another phone call from Rassie, this time he was phoning from South Africa and I was in Munster. He said he wanted me to play tighthead lock for the Springboks and wondered if I was interested.”
Although Kleyn is most likely going to fulfil the role of a squad player at the World Cup and as Eben Etzebeth’s back-up, he is more than happy just being there and in the mix for whenever the team needs him.
“Eben is a living legend. He is the best tighthead lock in the world,” admitted Kleyn.
“To be playing second fiddle to Eben is an honour. He showed his quality against the Pumas a few weeks back in Joburg. He made 17 tackles and scored a try. I am more than happy to try and walk in his footsteps.”
Kleyn continued: “When you get called up to the Boks, there is an onus on you to do your country proud. In South Africa, more than other countries, the Boks carry the hopes of the people.
“It is a massive honour to carry that hope. You have to perform because your country is relying on you and that is what I want to do.”
“I would have been stupid if I didn’t take this opportunity. I will try my best, give my best for my country, give my best for the Springboks and I hope we can make the country proud.”
Kleyn will make his third start in a Bok jersey this weekend when he takes to the field against Wales in their World Cup warm-up match in Cardiff.
It will be another opportunity for him to impress the Bok selectors and make them consider him as a bench option during the showpiece event, as it is likely that Etzebeth will retake his place for the final warm-up against the All Blacks and then the World Cup.