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Does the selection of Jean Kleyn undermine the Irish squad ethos before the World Cup?

A major part of preparing a squad for an event like a World Cup is the consideration of the time that players spend in each other’s company over a prolonged period.

The Rugby World Cup in Japan will take place from the 20th September when the hosts face Russia in Ireland’s group to the Final on the 2nd November.

Success at these events is about much more than having the 15 best players on form. It is about building a squad to survive injuries, creating an environment where players can stay relaxed when not playing, building camaraderie, helping each individual to manage their distractions and creating resilience.

Ireland Rugby Squad Training, Carton House, Co. Kildare 3/9/2019 The Ireland team huddle Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Six weeks away from home not to mention the weeks in camp before leaving for the event make serious demands on players emotionally, physically and psychologically.

A key aspect of big tournament preparation is building units within the squad where players have close relationships to lean on when needed.

This would be an important aspect of discussion when making calls on squad selection. Sometimes when it is a tight call between two players it is the one who is more popular off the field and is a positive influence in the dressing room who gets the nod.

This makes a lot of sense when you think of a group of people spending months away from home living in each other’s pockets.

It is with that in mind that I was intrigued by Joe Schmidt’s call to select Jean Kleyn ahead of Devin Toner to go to the World Cup.

Ireland Rugby Squad Training, Carton House, Co. Kildare 3/9/2019 Jean Kleyn Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Now I must state that I have no knowledge of either players personality or likeability and have no inside line to understand the Irish coaches call.

I am merely asking the question is it possible that the decision to leave out a player who has done it for Ireland for the past eight years and was a key factor in two wins over the all blacks in favour of a guy who qualified to play for Ireland two weeks ago has potential to divide a squad?

Of course I could be miles wide of the mark, but I just wonder if the strengths Kleyn brings in physicality outweigh the possible poor reaction of some of those close to Toner in the squad.

Guinness Series, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 17/11/2018 Ireland vs New Zealand All Blacks Ireland’s Devin Toner wins a lineout from New Zealand’s Kieran Read Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Especially when you consider that Kleyn moved here as a professional decision to make a living and has earned a cap under what I consider the ludicrous rule of three  year residency.

It is this rule that has deprived world rugby of seeing competitive teams from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga etc as the big powers are harvesting their talent.

As a Munster fan I like Kleyn as a player. I don’t know him personally and it could well be that his presence in the squad is a popular one.

I just question if it could be a gamble considering the challenges Ireland already seem to be facing with fragile confidence at the moment.

Will Addison missed out because it was said he hasn’t had much game time this year, but how will the Ulster contingent feel when Kleyn only played his first game two weeks ago and underwhelmed in a shocking team display against England.

Interestingly from an Ulster perspective also losing out are two players they have signed from Leinster in Jack McGrath and Jordi Murphy.

Guinness Summer Series, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 10/8/2019 Ireland vs Italy Ireland’s Jordi Murphy arrives Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Is there the possibility that Captain Rory Best and his clubmates will feel aggrieved? Possibly so but you would think he is too experienced a pro to let it interfere with his preparation.

Again I’m not comparing the decisions and I truly hope the squad selected produce the performances they are undoubtedly capable of in Japan.

I do know from my time working with International teams and also this season in inter county GAA that squad selection is possibly the most challenging aspect of management.

Not just because of the fear of getting it wrong on the day but more importantly from the perspective of maintaining a strong unit.

A fundamental part of building resilience in a group is creating a togetherness that you will all go to the wall for each other. If divisions appear due to poorly handled squad selections it can be very hard to repair. Especially if you are a long way from home.

Ireland Rugby Squad Training, Carton House, Co. Kildare 3/9/2019 Head coach Joe Schmidt Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

One of the things that gives me hope that things will go well for this team is Schmidt’s attention to detail. He gives players exceptional information on their performances and their areas of weakness.

Every player is left in no doubt what he has to work on. This is essential in building team resilience. It is much harder for a player to be grieved about not being selected if his manager has taken the time to outline clearly what he needs to do to improve. You may not agree but you can’t claim you weren’t told. Clarity is the key. The one thing that breeds discontent is a lack of information.

There is no doubt that Schmidt will have given all his players key deliverable s over the course of the World Cup build up. Jean Kleyn will have been informed months ago of what he would be required to do to be considered for selection for Ireland.

The Irish boss is famous for studying training as hard as he studies the game.  Let’s hope for every fans sake that what he has seen in camp in the last four weeks has given him the clarity to select the best possible squad to deliver on and off the pitch in Japan.

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