Why the Springboks went after Jean Kleyn

Why the Springboks went after Jean Kleyn

Rassie Erasmus has explained the Springboks' reasoning behind selecting former Ireland international Jean Kleyn, despite voting against the change in eligibility laws that allowed it.

South African-born and raised Kleyn qualified for Ireland through residency after joining Munster in 2016.

He earned five Tests caps for his adopted country in 2019 but hasn't been selected for the national side since despite strong showings for Munster.

Kleyn was named as the 41st member of South Africa's Rugby Championship training squad, pending approval from World Rugby on an application filed by SA Rugby regarding his eligibility.

In 2021, World Rugby approved a change in rugby's eligibility laws that came into effect in January 2022. The change was voted for by World Rugby's members, and upon approval, players can represent a second Test nation provided they have 'a close and credible link to that union via birth-right.'

In Kleyn's case, he was eligible to play for South Africa again after a three-year stand-down period from international rugby with Ireland.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of the Rugby Championship, Erasmus explained that while South Africa voted against the change, they were willing to take advantage of it to strengthen their squad.

"Our selection committee has been monitoring players for a long time. When Regulation 8 was changed, we had a chance to give input, and we actually voted against that. And then World Rugby decided that you can change the national team that you play for," Erasmus explained.

"So immediately, when we saw that, we put a guy like Jean Kleyn on our radar, and we started monitoring him as well. He was a player who was available."

Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber worked closely with Kleyn during their time at Munster. The 29-year-old had a standout season with the province this year, featuring in all of their URC matches, including their victorious final against the Stormers.

"A guy like Jean, a monster of a guy, played with RG [Snyman], we coached him at Munster and comes right through the South African structures, but he wasn't available (because he played for Ireland), and now he is available," he added.

"He has won the United Rugby Championship, he knows most of the players here, and as I say, we've always feel got all these locks, but every time we've gone to finals, we lost Lood [de Jager] in the final of the previous World Cup in the 20th minute and Sous [Franco Mostert] immediately went on.

"Our locks are really physical in the way we play the game. We felt we never had enough guys there, and with RG getting the role there at Munster also calling five in the lineout, calling the lineouts, which he didn't do before when he was with us, he got that experience of playing four and five lock."

"We felt that's a great cover for him, Marvin [Orie], Sous and Lood, and now obviously they have the luxury of RG, Eben and Jean, who have been able to play front lock. That just really bolsters our squad."

Meanwhile, Kleyn spoke to Afrikaans newspaper, the Rapport, about how it felt to get the call-up to the Springboks squad.

"When I was approached, I was overwhelmed by the opportunity to be part of the Springbok squad, he said.

"I couldn't let the chance pass. This opportunity that my home country is offering me is an honour that I never thought I would get."

The lock is not the first player to make the most of the change in regulation 8, with Charles Piutau, Israel Folau, George Moala and Vaea Fifitia all returning to international rugby with Tonga. Jack Dempsey also represented Australia but has now made the switch to Scotland, while there several other examples with Fiji and Samoa.