| 7.3°C Dublin

Leinster banking on mane man Kirchner to cut loose and scale heights

To some folk in South Africa, Zane Kirchner possesses more flair in his hair than with a rugby ball in his hand.

While evidence that the Springbok's barber can easily slice through his wildly elaborate tresses is plain for all to grimace at, the 28-year-old's ability to carve open defence remains debatable.

Kirchner's propensity to attract barbed – and barbered – comments has trailed him for the six years since leaving the Griquas to join the Blue Bulls in Pretoria.

Even the club's official website, so often rugby's repository of benighted banality, trumps up something rather less than cheerleading encouragement for its international star.

"Now established as the first-choice full-back in the country, Kirchner would like to add more weapons to an already impressive arsenal of full-back play," the anonymous author suggests none too subtly.

And, as if to emphasise his point, he/she continues thus: "Tactically sound, safe under the high ball and with the ability to kick the ball miles, the stalwart will be conscious of calls to up his attacking game."

The wondrous irony for his current employers is that he may indeed very well do just that – except in someone else's colours.

Where Kirchner has been instructed to limit his horizons, Leinster will encourage him to broaden them. But whether he can become a success at Leinster will depend on several factors. Chief among them will be that the man from whom he may have expected to have acquired the most enthusiastic encouragement – Joe Schmidt – will no longer be at the club.

Given the description from the South African side of the fence concerning protracted negotiations, it is clear that Schmidt has been intimately associated with this particular project for some time.

While most see in Kirchner the predictably staid stereotype of South African international rugby, Schmidt was aware of the innate talent that initially captured the attention of the Bulls all those years ago, and he heightened his interest after Isa Nacewa announced his retirement.

With a try strike rate of better than one in four (20 in 77), Kirchner has more than proved capable of reaching the relative heights required at a Super 15 level of rugby where conservatism does not consistently reap rewards.

At international level, where he is even more conservatively deployed, his statistics pale in comparison: three tries in 24. On the other hand, is that really an embarrassment compared to seven tries in 46 games, the international figures for Rob Kearney?

Leinster are clearly drawn to the untapped potential within, although there will be a lot to be said for housing a solid figure at the back when Kearney is away for lengthy periods.

Should Kearney make the Lions tour, he may only be available for eight or nine of Leinster's games before Christmas, and thereafter only a handful until the end of March.

Some Leinster supporters may be frustrated at the inability to capture a bigger name and one specifically targeted to succeed in Nacewa's predominant wing role, Kirchner's Japan-bound Springbok colleague JP Pietersen, for instance.

However, Pietersen would have forced chief executive Mick Dawson and his colleagues to pony up the type of cash we have become used to seeing the French and Japanese clubs wave around. Leinster don't lack ambition, just the megabucks required to splash out on such back-breaking salaries.

Even if the unconfirmed reports of a salary approaching €275,000 after bonuses are true, that actually represents value in today's globally skewed market; Pietersen's price tag may well have been double.

Which brings us to the other factor required to ensure Kirchner's move becomes a success: trust.

The new Leinster coaching ticket's trust in Kirchner (below), supporters' trust of their new coaching ticket and, most crucially, the trust placed in Leinster's other, less heralded players.

With the possibility of Brian O'Driscoll continuing his career for another season, there will still be a requirement for other homegrown players to ensure that they can supplement the Leinster backline, specifically the back three.

When the European champions' big guns were absent this season, the junior wave of talent failed to step up. Some – like Fionn Carr and Andrew Conway – have now stepped out altogether. Dave Kearney has recently spoken of wanting to establish himself at Leinster; this is his time, and whether others from the youth ranks can also step up remains to be seen.

If Leinster struggle again in Heineken Cup qualification, they will only have their own processes to blame, not a high-profile signing.

They will hope that Kirchner arrives sooner, rather than later. The five-month tussle between his agent, club and Leinster over his departure indicates that there will be intense discussions to secure his premature release for July pre-season training.

Schmidt confirmed his delight in securing Kirchner in what is likely to be one of the final negotiations of his Leinster career.

"Zane is a quality international player and we believe that he will add genuine value to the Leinster squad over the next few years," said Schmidt.

He is the mane man for sure. Whether Kirchner can become the main man remains to be seen.

Irish Independent