Springbok lock Jean Kleyn is ready to bring up a bizarre milestone in his wild international rugby career as he appears at his second World Cup with a different team when the Boks take to the field against Romania in their pool B clash in Bordeaux on Sunday afternoon.
Kleyn made his international debut for Ireland in 2019 and featured twice at that year’s World Cup in Japan which took his appearance tally to five, but was then not picked again by his adopted country over the next four years.
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That opened the door for the Boks to take advantage of World Rugby’s new eligibility laws and lure Kleyn back to play for the country of his birth this year.
Bok World Cup debut
He has since made four appearances for the Boks in the build-up to the World Cup and will now play his first match at the showpiece event for them against Romania.
“It’s a bit bizarre, they feel so detached from each other because so much time has passed, in my mind at least, since the 2019 World Cup,” said Kleyn of the two tournaments at a Bok presser on Friday.
“As a person I’ve grown so much and as a player I’ve developed quite a bit as well. For me intrinsically I’m not the same person I was in 2019, it almost feels like it was a different lifetime.
“But obviously I’m really honoured to have played for Ireland and I’m delighted now to be representing my country of birth, South Africa, and it’s an opportunity I really relish.
“It’s a proud moment for me and my family to get my debut for South Africa at the World Cup. If you asked me three and a half months ago I would have said there’s no chance, it’s not even on the radar, so I’m delighted it’s happened, it’s an incredible opportunity.”
Adding to his mixed feelings will be the possibility of fronting up against Ireland in the Boks’ next pool match next week Saturday.
With Eben Etzebeth nursing an injury and in doubt for the game, Kleyn could get the opportunity to start, or he could feature off the bench as part of the “bomb squad”.
“It’s not something I’ve thought much about. You want to play against the best teams in the world and I think Ireland is one of the best teams in the world at the moment so I’d love to play against them,” admitted Kleyn.
“I’ve played against all of them throughout the years (ass a member of Munster) against Leinster and Ulster and Connacht, so I know the players well and I’m looking forward to the opportunity if it does present itself.”
Meanwhile, the Romanian match will also be a World Cup debut for Bok inside centre Andre Esterhuizen, who will be looking to put in a big showing as he continues his partnership with Canan Moodie, after the two featured together against the All Blacks last month.
“It’s obviously a dream come true for me, I’ve worked long and hard for this and finally the day has come to play my first game at a World Cup so I’m very excited and looking forward to it,” said Esterhuizen.”