Wednesday 13 December 2017

Kirchner: Season will be judged by silverware

Zane Kirchner goes through a stretching routine during Leinster training Picture: MATT BROWNE/SPORTSFILE
Zane Kirchner goes through a stretching routine during Leinster training Picture: MATT BROWNE/SPORTSFILE
Luke McGrath with his ‘Shave or Dye’ haircut Picture: MATT BROWNE/SPORTSFILE

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Zane Kirchner is the Leinster Rugby oasis of calm. Just the type of character you want at full-back. Unflappable. Cool under fire. Taking it all in, reading the situation but getting the job done. No fuss, no fooster as the mother would say.

That may well be true, but we have yet to see the 31-times-capped South African utility back in the Leinster No 15 jersey so far this season. Three pre-season games and three impressive outings in the No 13 jersey. He sees where this is going before it even takes off.

"No, no, no," he smiles dismissively, "it's been good to try it out and it's definitely a position that I have liked over the course of my career but I haven't seen any competitive action in that position in my time here with Leinster.

"I've enjoyed it and you are a bit more involved in the action but you look at last season and Garry Ringrose was there and he had a superb season for us. And before that again you had Brian O'Driscoll obviously. The most famous man to wear the No 13 jersey for Leinster and Ireland. A legend. So I think I am very different to those players but I've enjoyed it and Leo (Cullen) knows it's an option if he needs it."

Hampered

Some say we saw the best of Kirchner last season. There were niggles that hampered his season but when involved there were moments of real magic. Witness the try in the Champions Cup against Wasps or the intercept against Munster in Thomond Park. Or his 30-minute cameo off the bench against Ulster in the Pro12 Play-Off in the RDS.

After a staggered pre-season rather than a full block, Kirchner is looking forward to getting going again and to more magic moments.

"A lot of hard work went into the pre-season. It was an interesting one too in how it was managed. The first time we haven't done it as one solid block. Instead starting off with three weeks of strength work, then another few weeks off then back in again. So a good chance for me to bulk up! It meant that you got some recovery in during the training, more sleep! So you then felt good hitting the next block which was very fitness- and rugby-focused. For me and my family we stayed in Europe so there was no long-distance travel and I definitely think for me that it worked as good as any pre-season that I have had."

The team didn't travel too far in the pre-season either with Navan, Tallaght and Donnybrook their home away from home for the three games. With 37 players used over the three outings against Ulster, Gloucester and Bath, everyone got decent game time and Kirchner is encouraged by what he saw. "Look at last season we used 56 players so at the end of the day the coach knows what the bigger picture is about. A new season and yes it's great that everyone is fit and ready to go but it's rugby. We'll have injuries. Already Jack Conan and Billy Dardis have picked up injuries so Leo needs to know what he has to play with and I think the three games have been used very well for that."

Last season the eyes of the world were on the Rugby World Cup and it is well documented the negative impact that had on Leinster. This season the eyes were on Brazil and the Olympics but this time the showpiece event has had a positive impact. It's up to the Leinster players now to make sure that it counts.

"The guys are looking fresh and, most importantly, hungry. Normally we start the season with an away game due to the Horse Show but because of the Olympics that was held earlier. So instead we get the chance to kick off at home in the RDS on Friday so this game is a huge one. Our pre-season has been geared up towards that as well. Playing at home in familiar surroundings and all geared towards us hitting the ground running come Friday. I think that has been a huge plus.

"A season-opener in the RDS, you couldn't ask for better. Gets us up and running before two games away from home and gives us a chance to get the crowd behind us early in the season. We have to make it count.

"Treviso with a new coach and new players in, they will see us maybe without the Irish boys and will think they have a chance. We just have to be on our game and meet that fight head on."

As the madness of the Shave or Dye campaign in support of the McQuilkin family unfolds around him, the 32-year-old from Western Cape is happy to make his request with the hairdressers from Toni & Guy, below the radar.

The request is for dye rather than a shave and is more Paul Pogba than Marshall Mathers. But as a man with a reputation for his daring attire off the pitch, it's another item of clothing and not his hair that draws most comments.

A Manchester United snapback sits proudly on his head but he pleads ignorance. No link to United. And his choice of hair dye is no hat-tip to Pogba either.

"I've been to Old Trafford a few times, invited over as a guest, so it was a present and I thought why not! Why not wear it around Leinster HQ but I didn't realise the reaction it would get. Probably have to leave it at home the next time. The Liverpool supporters in particular have been very loud…!"

They tend to be.

So to the season ahead. Kirchner played 19 minutes off the bench in the Guinness Pro12 Final which Leinster lost to Connacht. His last taste of competitive action. He was also denied a try at a crucial time, making space for himself where none was thought possible only for it to be ruled out.

"As a professional it's ruthless but your work is ultimately judged by silverware. My first season here we won the Pro12 in the summer sunshine in the RDS against Glasgow - a great memory for me. But we haven't scaled those heights since then. Trophies in the cupboard. That's the aim. And I think it's about going step by step. Treviso is step one. So we get over that hopefully and then we go again. We were much more consistent last season in the Pro12 but we need to be even better. We set very high standards of each other. But that's the way it should be. I'm excited. Can't wait for Friday."

And with that he skips off. Snapback on. Paul Pogba hair. Ready to announce himself on another stage, on another season and hoping for more days in the summer sunshine.

Irish Independent

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