Kirchner focusing on Leinster after difficult World Cup
Published 06/01/2016 | 02:30
For all of the World Cup hangovers that Leinster have suffered in recent months, Zane Kirchner arguably had the most justification for coming back from the tournament with one.
Given his limited game time with Leinster, Kirchner was a controversial selection in South Africa's squad and at the tournament his one and only appearance did little to appease supporters.
With Willie le Roux missing the Springboks' opening game against Japan, Kirchner (below) was handed the ideal opportunity to stake his claim in his favoured full-back position but, instead, he was part of the biggest humiliation in World Cup history.
His performance prompted 1995 World Cup winner James Small to take to Twitter and rant that Kirchner "did not belong on an international pitch".
The 31-year-old, who didn't feature again for the Springboks for the entire tournament, was handed a shiny new two-year Leinster contract earlier this year which raised eyebrows in a few quarters given his patchy performances since arriving on these shores in 2013.
Begrudgingly looking back on his World Cup experience, Kirchner's memories are understandably not that fond.
"There was some good times off the field, and there wasn't a lot on the field, so that's probably it in terms of my experience," he says.
"I formed a lot of bonds, but in terms of the rugby itself there wasn't lots to talk about, so I'll probably just leave it there."
But he can't leave it there without talking about what exactly went wrong against Japan.
"Obviously we lost. It's like as they say, second-tier teams, how good they have become. I mean, they were a very well-coached side under Eddie Jones, and I think that on that day, the chances we had we just didn't finish.
"I think we probably crossed the try-line three times, where we either lost the ball or there was just something going wrong. I mean, coming into a World Cup, and basically every game that you play is a massive play-off game.
"There was a lot of little things that went wrong. You've got to put your hand down on it. That's probably it, I'll leave it there."
As Kirchner swoons over the quality in the Japanese side, he is in no doubt that they will improve again for their home World Cup in four years' time and few would argue against that, especially given the formation of their first Super Rugby team - the Sunwolves.
Since arriving at Leinster, Kirchner has found his path blocked by Rob Kearney as well as Ian Madigan at times and despite the fact that the latter will depart at the end of the season, there are plenty of young talents coming through the system.
Cian Kelleher and Billy Dardis are two such exciting prospects and the hope is that they will be given adequate game time to hone their development.
One of the emerging talents that he has seen up close however is Garry Ringrose and Kirchner has been equally as impressed with his ability as those who have tracked his progress since schools rugby.
"Garry's agility and footwork is quite good. He's been carrying the ball in both hands, and that probably makes it much more difficult for defenders to pick up whether he's going to pass or keep hold of the ball.
"As everybody knows, he's one for the future, and being called up into the Irish squad just shows the quality of him."
The South African may have yet to win over a large proportion of the Leinster supporters but he at least has the time to do so.
"I don't think we're really focusing on our (Champions Cup) Pool for next year, it's about ending strong in this year's Pro12 league," he insists.
"I think our focus is on how we can compete this season, and then next season will look after itself.
"Finishing higher will give us an easier Pool, but it's probably better to focus on this when we're currently busy with our league. At the end of the day whoever we get next season in Europe, or whatever Pool we fall into, that will sort out itself.
"Obviously we're professional rugby players and we want to be successful. You want to play in the top competitions and you want to do well.
"Not being a part of the rest of the competition in Europe, that is a big setback. But then, we do have a lot to focus on in the league."
After a turbulent few months, Kirchner is back in home surrounds but now is the time for him to leave his comfort zone and reward Leinster for the faith that they have shown in him.