DUBLIN – South African-born lock Jean Kleyn will make his Ireland debut in their first World Cup warm-up game against Italy on Saturday when a number of other fringe players will stake a claim for a place in the squad for Japan.
Kleyn, 25 – who played for the Stormers and Western Province in South Africa – will start at the first opportunity, having played the required three years at Irish province Munster to qualify for his newly adopted country, a route Ireland have most recently used to recruit the likes of Bundee Aki and CJ Stander.
With Aki, Stander and a number of other front-line players rested, Saturday’s line-up will mostly feature teammates fighting to make the cut before coach Joe Schmidt trims his squad to 31 players from the 43 currently in camp.
They include rejuvenated Leinster wing Dave Kearney, who has only featured once for Ireland since 2017, and former England second string back Mike Haley, who could also make his Ireland debut off the bench.
With Sean O’Brien and Dan Leavy ruled out of the World Cup through injury, captain for the day Rhys Ruddock, Munsterman Tommy O’Donnell and Ulster’s Jordi Murphy begin their battle for what may be one last back-row space in the squad.