Cape Town - Western Province lock Jean Kleyn has gone from university social player to standout Currie Cup performer in just two years.
In 2012, and fresh out of high school, an 18-year-old Kleyn made the move down from Johannesburg to Stellenbosch University after matriculating at Hoërskool Linden.
However, this was no rugby move. He had enrolled to study mechanical engineering, which was a career focus. He did find time to play rugby for Maties Under-19s, but it was more for social reasons. Little did he know that this would be his big break.
"After playing for the Maties juniors against a Western Province junior team, I got the call from WP Under-19s head coach Nazeem Adams to join trials," Kleyn told the MyPlayers website. "I was very excited to do so as I hadn't played provincial rugby before.
"I managed to make the team, and played one game for the WP Under-19s. Then I got a call-up from WP Under-21s coach John Dobson. Things went very well as we went all the way to the final!"
Kleyn did enough to secure a contract with Western Province, and has been racing through the ranks since then.
The 21-year-old has enjoyed an impressive season this year, making his Super Rugby and Currie Cup debuts for the Cape side. He's currently one of the standout young talents on the domestic scene.
"This year has been awesome, on and off the field," said Kleyn. "Starting for the Stormers against the Bulls in Pretoria was an amazing experience. I have learned so much, especially with the chance of training alongside senior players.
"Manuel Carizza has taught me a lot. He's a senior player in the squad, who boasts so many international caps. Duane Vermeulen has also given me a lot of advice and was always approachable, especially at the lineouts.
"Overall, all of the players play their part. There's an awesome vibe in the squad among the juniors and seniors. We're a close unit.
"I know I'm still have a lot to improve on as a young player," Kleyn adds. "I'm getting great advice from the coaches on a weekly basis, and they've helped me a lot. I will continue working hard for the team."
For now, Kleyn's mechanical engineering studies have been put on ice because of his busy rugby schedule. But he's still studying financial management through UNISA as he stresses the importance of achieving a qualification.
"Rugby players don't have the luxury of studying full-time, but it's important to get something behind your name," said Kleyn. "The course I'm doing now will give me a good understanding of the business world, and it gives me the time to focus on my rugby. It's important to prepare for life after the game as soon as you can."
Kleyn added that the support from his family has been amazing.
"My parents are very relieved to see me playing for Western Province in the Currie Cup!" he quipped. "When I told them I'm putting my studies on hold for rugby reasons, they were a bit concerned because I never took rugby seriously before.
"But they are very happy that I'm making a success out of my career decision. My whole family and friends back home are very proud of my achievements so far."
So where to now from here? Kleyn remains modest as just wants to play his part for the team in future.
"I want to do well for the Stormers and Western Province over the next few months," said Kleyn. "The collective goal for the Currie Cup is to win the title. We've done well so far, but as a team, we are not yet 100% happy with our performances just yet. We want to continue improving as we're very happy with the brand of rugby we're playing."
Kleyn is at No 4 lock for WP’s Currie Cup clash against the EP Kings at Newlands on Friday (19:10 kick-off).
15. Cheslin Kolbe, 14. Kobus van Wyk, 13. Juan de Jongh (captain), 12. Jaco Taute, 11. Pat Howard, 10. Demetri Catrakilis, 9. Louis Schreuder, 8. Nizaam Carr, 7. Michael Rhodes
6. Siya Kolisi, 5. Ruan Botha, 4. Jean Kleyn, 3. Brok Harris, 2. Stephan Coetzee, 1. Alistair Vermaak
Substitutes: 16. Neil Rautenbach, 17. Pat Cilliers, 18. Manuel Carizza, 19. Rynhardt Elstadt, 20. Nic Groom, 21. Kurt Coleman, 22. Justin Geduld
15. Scott Van Breda, 14. Ronnie Cooke, 13. Tim Whitehead, 12. Dwayne Jenner, 11. Siviwe Soyizwapi, 10. George Whitehead, 9. Kevin Luiters, 8. Aidon Davis, 7. Paul Schoeman, 6. Shaun Macdonald, 5. Steven Sykes, 4. David Bulbring, 3. Tom Botha, 2. Edgar Marutlulle, 1. Lizo Gqoboka
Substitutes: 16. Mike Van Vuuren, 17. CJ Van Der Linde, 18. Thembalani Bholi, 19. Stefan Willemse, 20. Tobie Botes, 21. Shane Gates, 22. Siyanda Grey
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