Kirchner: 'I know we'll find positive reaction'
Published 29/01/2016 | 02:30
Like so many of the Leinster Rugby players to have represented their country at the recent Rugby World Cup, Zane Kirchner was playing catch-up when he landed back into Leinster HQ. But nearly three months, nine games and two tries since his first game of the season, he feels that he has started to find his rhythm again.
"It wasn't ideal for any of us. Obviously the new coaching set-up and coming back to a group that were very in tune with what Leo and the other coaches wanted. You have to play catch-up pretty quick.
"But after a slow start for myself personally I am really enjoying my rugby now and feel that there is a freedom there from Girvan (Dempsey) that we are allowed to play. At the same time you have Kurt (McQuilkin) working really hard on our defence. He has the highest of standards and I think over the last few months - leaving aside the Wasps defeat - we have a good track record on our defence. It is something we take great pride in and we strive to make that better week in, week out."
Halfway through the season and having missed games during the World Cup, he has already scored the same amount of tries as the whole of last season. Does this go back to the 'freedom' that he mentioned earlier? He laughs!
"Not necessarily! It's not that simple or we would all be running in tries! And I am not a big fan of comparing year on year because things are different. For me, I look at last year and I had an ankle issue, I had a hamstring issue. Already this season, I am one up because thankfully the body feels really good and I am very grateful for the game time that I have received."
Some have argued that we have seen some of his best performances this season in a Leinster jersey, in particular at full-back. But he is not for turning.
"Again, it's little things. Little setbacks last season here and there that impact on your momentum. This season I am looking to contribute as much as possible and so far it's going well."
With Europe done and dusted for another season, the eyes of the club and indeed its supporters are on the Guinness Pro12 and indeed the British & Irish Cup, where the 'A' team are undefeated with six wins from six.
For Kirchner, the Pro12 is a competition he holds very dear to his heart. A league title in his first season and two tries for him in the final in the blistering heat and sunshine of the RDS against a well-fancied Glasgow Warriors team. He remembers it well. For the least obvious of reasons.
"The sun! I don't think I have seen a day like it since! Blue skies and a dry ball and the heat … it was brilliant. Even better to be able to win it in front of our own supporters. Days like that are what get you up in the morning. When it's not sunny outside! To have that piece of silverware, that medal, that's what all the hard work is towards. And for us our whole focus is now on that Pro12 title again. It helps that there is that narrow focus. For us we can focus on finishing as high up that table as possible, hopefully secure the home semi-final and then who knows. We know there is plenty of rugby to go but there is a huge determination to start consolidating our position in the top four and that starts on Friday."
There is no fear of looking too far ahead. This season, as last, a game at the Ricoh Arena is followed by a game against the Newport Gwent Dragons.
Last season it was played at the RDS and the men of Gwent left with a 16-14 win that stunned the RDS faithful. This season it's to Rodney Parade they go. But the memory of their last trip there lingers for the 31-times-capped South African back.
"We were in a good place. Ben (Te'o) had scored two tries and then Jimmy Gopperth as well. But then a yellow card for Ben and the crowd feed off little things and that yellow card and then they make some hard yards. Again that lifts them, gets them into the game. The players, the supporters.
"On Friday, it's important that we get back to where we were. That we put in an 80- to 85-minute performance because it needs that. Only a few weeks ago they beat Munster and they have gone well in Europe, qualifying for the Challenge Cup quarter-finals so we have to bring a lot of energy ourselves and make sure that we bring our game to them."
Back to where they were. A team that has climbed to second place in the Pro12 with a game in hand. It's impossible though to ignore what went on at the Ricoh.
"Sometimes results like that happen. That is not an excuse. It wasn't good enough for us as individuals or as a team. Dare I say it, but the scoreline was embarrassing. Credit to Wasps they were ruthless but that second half wasn't us.
"That wasn't the team with the best defensive record in the Pro12. So we have to learn from it yes, but then we have to focus very quickly on the Dragons. Will it do us any good staying in that moment? Staying low? No."
How do they lift spirits then?
"We will have a very different starting team out on Friday and some of those had a very positive last experience playing for Leinster against Bath. Others guys like Adam Byrne playing for the first time in a few years, starting for the first time. Other guys ready for their debuts from the bench. There is a great buzz about the place with a firm focus on the Dragons.
"It's up to us older players to give them the leadership and the guidance but I think that we'll be able to find a reaction and I hope that it's a positive one."
As his eyes focus on the Dragons, for others in Leinster their focus is also on a Welsh team and their visit to the Aviva Stadium. Will he be hooked or does he enjoy to switch off?
"No, I actually really enjoy following the lads and love watching them playing for Ireland. It's hard not to. You know the guys, they're your friends, you have an understanding of the environment that they are in, all these little things.
"I've never been to a Six Nations game actually so I hope to be able to take a game in this season with three at home for Ireland. That would be good. But yeah, I wish them well and hope that they can defend the title and get that three-in-a-row."