In a few short months, Jean Kleyn has completed a remarkable journey from having a faint chance of a recall to the Ireland squad to being picked for the Springboks at the World Cup in France.
The Johannesburg-raised Kleyn played in the emerald green of Ireland at the 2019 World Cup, and he says the exchange for the green and gold of South Africa is a case of his journey with Rassie Erasmus going full circle.
Speaking at the World Cup squad announcement at the SuperSport studios on Tuesday, Kleyn said: “When I was a 22-year-old at the Stormers in 2016, I got a call from Rassie Erasmus asking me to come and play tighthead lock from him at Munster (where he was coaching).
“I was young and unattached, and decided to take a chance with Rassie and it worked very well for me. I have been with Munster for seven years … I have an Irish wife and a lovely home there, and playing for Ireland was an honour.
“And 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. Was I interested?”
Two months later, Kleyn made his debut for the Boks against Australia in Pretoria.
“It has been a crazy period of my life,” the 29-year-old said. “A few months ago, the thought of playing for the Boks had never entered my head. I shouted ‘yes’ to Rassie on the phone.
“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 … Here I am standing in a Springbok blazer.”
Erasmus recalled Kleyn to South Africa to back up Eben Etzebeth, and the No 4 lock says it is a privilege to be the understudy to such a great Bok.
“Eben is a living legend. He is the best tighthead lock in the world,” Kleyn said.
“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 added that he embraces the responsibility of being a Springbok.
“When you get called up to the Boks, there is an onus on you to do your country proud,” he said.
“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.”