Cape Town – Listening to that Irish lilt coming through in some of his words, Jean Kleyn has fully transformed from ‘boerseun’ to Irishman.
But that doesn’t mean that he has lost his Afrikaans. The former Stormers lock, born and raised in Johannesburg and having developed his rugby in the Cape, will understand many of the lineout calls from his old team in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship final at Cape Town Stadium (6.30pm kickoff).
The 29-year-old is an old-fashioned No 4 who does the hard yards at close quarters – hitting rucks, making his tackles, carrying at tight angles in order to get over the advantage line and generate quick ball for the backs.
Along with Springboks giant RG Snyman and veteran flank Peter O’Mahony, Kleyn will also aim to disrupt the Stormers lineout once more, as they did in the 26-24 victory at Cape Town Stadium in April.
The five-cap Irish Test second-rower didn’t feel that knowing the local language helps to give them the edge in the set-piece, though, and was reluctant to state that the heavy South African influence at the Irish province in the last decade – with Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber and Johann van Graan having been part of the coaching staff – has given them real insight into tackling SA sides.
“No, I don’t think the language has anything to do with it, to be honest with you! I think the way we train at the moment – the level of training we have, even in lineout competition and all of that – we’re really pushing each other to the absolute brink of detail and physicality,” Kleyn said this week.
“It’s just something… The way we are training at the moment is what’s making us play good rugby, and I think that’s just been the key in all games – not just against the Stormers.
“No, I don’t think that is something you can say (about the SA influence at Munster). I think, to be honest, it’s very much a Munster thing for us. As a club, we pride ourselves on physicality, detail and outworking other clubs on it – not just on the pitch on Saturday, but in the week…
“I think we train harder than most teams in the URC, if not most teams in the world. From a performance side, our strength and conditioning coaches push us to the absolute brink every day, and we have managed to produce more this season in terms of training-load and game-load than any other season before.
“So, I think it’s very much a team culture thing that’s matching that. Obviously us South Africans love a bit of rough and tumble, but I don’t think that is the key to unlocking this thing.
“From a lineout perspective, the detail we coach at the moment (under head coach Graham Rowntree) is massive. From playing under John Dobson for a few years, he loves his lineout… he loves his maul. He is also massively detail-oriented.
“It’s always a big challenge going up against them, but I think we are prepped for it and have the right players in the right positions.
“We’ve had two weeks to prepare for this, and it hasn’t been long since we last played the Stormers – so that also sort of counts in our favour. We know what to expect in terms of atmosphere and general play.”
It will be a bit of a homecoming for Kleyn, with his wife, brother and parents coming from Ireland and the UK to watch the URC final, along with other family members still in Cape Town.
He will also face his former Stormers teammates Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe, as well as ex-coach John Dobson.
“I think I’ve got about 25, 26 people coming! So, it’s going to be really good, really nice for me from a personal perspective. I’ve got my dad, my brother, and my wife and in-laws are travelling down as well. It’s going to be nice to have a lot of my people there to watch me play as well,” he said.
“I left in 2016, so it’s more the older boys – Frans, Steven. Those are the lads I had a lot of interaction with, and would’ve played a lot of rugby with. A lot of the other boys have left, but there are still a few guys I know.
“I worked closely with the coaching staff, Dobbo, (Dawie) Snyman, Norman (Laker). I played with them in the Under-21 (team) as well, and when they moved up to the senior team.
“Of the team dynamic, I understand Dobbo and I know how he coaches a team. I know he has incredible emphasis on building a really good team structure and team dynamic within the players, and I think he is incredibly good at it.
“So, as far as that’s concerned, as a team, I am sure they will be very tight-knit – and I am sure they are.
“(It would mean) absolutely everything (to beat the Stormers in his old home town). I’ve been with Munster a good few years now, over 130-something caps for Munster.
“The club means pretty much everything to me at the moment, and for us to win a trophy, it would be incredible. It’s been something we’ve been building towards over the last seven years. Since Axel (former Munster coach Anthony Foley) passed away, there have been seasons of upset and a lot of changes in the coaching staff.
“We have struggled to get cohesion over the last seven years, and I think this year, we’ve potentially cracked it in terms of the coaching staff coaching a very exciting brand of rugby – and we’re all really enjoying playing it. It means a lot, yeah.”