Former Ireland international Jean Kleyn acknowledges being on the verge of becoming a world champion with his native South Africa was “outside the realm of thinking” just months ago.
Munster lock Kleyn represented Ireland under Joe Schmidt at the 2019 World Cup in Japan after qualifying on residency grounds.
But, having been repeatedly overlooked by Schmidt’s successor Andy Farrell, the 30-year-old was in June cleared to switch allegiance back to the Springboks before being included in Jacques Nienaber’s squad for France.
Reigning champions South Africa are on course to retain their crown going into Saturday’s final against fellow three-time winners New Zealand in Paris.
“I think I’ve caught myself thinking about it probably too often,” Kleyn said of his curious Test career.
“It’s a strange one because if you’d asked me six months ago if I at all thought I had any chance of being here at the World Cup final playing for the Springboks, I would have told you you are absolutely insane.
“I’ll probably wake up when it’s all said and done and think, ‘was that a dream or did it actually happen?’. It was outside the realm of thinking.
“It’s been a fantastic journey for me. It’s been an absolute pleasure being part of it.”
Kleyn, who joined Munster from the Stormers in 2016, played five times under Schmidt in 2019, with his final cap coming in Ireland’s 47-5 pool-stage win over Samoa in Fukuoka.
His lengthy spell in the international wilderness allowed him to revert to the Springboks, a decision he feared may be met with a backlash.
But the response in his adopted nation has been overwhelmingly positive and grown since Ireland’s quarter-final exit at the hands of the All Blacks.
“I’ve been absolutely inundated with messages from Munster supporters – obviously only after Ireland fell out,” said Kleyn.
“Then they really came after us and said, ‘listen, you’re our second team now, guys’.
“The support was really heartfelt from a lot of Munster fans and it made it a lot easier for me because I thought it would be quite a negative reaction when I declared for the Springboks.
“From my history with Irish media, I figured there would be a few negative articles but it was resoundingly positive, so I was really happy about that.”
Kleyn may have to settle for a watching brief at Stade de France this weekend as he has been restricted to just one start during the tournament – South Africa’s 76–0 success over Romania.
His only other appearance was off the bench in his country’s 13-8 Pool B loss to Ireland.
While the Springboks lost that epic battle, they could still win the war.
“Obviously it was a pity for us the result didn’t go our way but here we are in the end still,” said Kleyn.
“No-one really looks back and says ‘you’ve lost a pool game’. They’re going to look if you win the World Cup.
“We were disappointed with the result back then but happy with where we are now. It was a fantastic game to be a part of. I enjoyed every minute.”