Tuesday 21 November 2017

Zane Kirchner keen to build new legacy for Leinster

Zane Kirchner in training with Leinster ahead of their Celtic League 2013/14, Round 10, match against Edinburgh
Zane Kirchner in training with Leinster ahead of their Celtic League 2013/14, Round 10, match against Edinburgh
David Kelly

David Kelly

As even Zane Kirchner’s bobble hat struggles to accommodate the gathering gales, he doesn’t need to add to his rueful smile.

Words are hardly required to accompany a denial that the Irish weather headed the list of attractions when Leinster were flitting their eyelashes in his direction last summer.

“Yeah, I must say it is something different to what we normally have back in South Africa,” he chirps.

“What about my Christmas? I didn’t really plan anything. I only set up my Christmas tree last night.”

The traditional ‘asking Johnny Foreigner what it’s like to be stuck in blustery Ireland at Christmas’ routine is as familiar as Noddy Holder’s screeching greeting of the season.

But, then, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

“I mean, this time of the year back home, we would not really be running around,” the Springbok continues.

“You’d be on a two or three-week break. It is new, it is different. It is something to look forward to. I mean, change is good.”

Change is what the 29-year-old bought into. He has cut his famed ‘Sideshow Bob’ dreads. He has cut his ties with his homeland.

Kirchner and wife Tasneem welcomed daughter Amaris to the family only days before they arrived in the city. And yet some ties still bind. Those to the Springbok emblem on the South African jersey, for example, tug the hardest.

Last autumn, it seemed, one minute he was here, the next he was gone. Surprisingly, for some of his fiercest South Africa critics, at least, he was whisked away on international duty.

Most had felt that the primary rea

son he left the Bulls was because of his dwindling influence with the national side; Heyneke Meyer’s reversal of his contemporary selection policy raised eyebrows.

Leinster wouldn’t admit it publicly but privately the decision put their noses out of joint; having shelled out decent wedge for some prime beef, they didn’t expect him to immediately hitch a lift on the first flight out of Dublin.

However, his commitment to Leinster, when it was required, revealed someone whose belief in the cause would be nothing more than absolute.

One Saturday in November, he was stranded in Paris, after being omitted from Meyer’s Springbok squad to face France when Leinster, minus only the odd 20 players for a hike to Treviso, dialled his hotel room.

He watched his country’s game at Stade de France, went to bed at 3.30, woke two hours later and was in the airport at 6.0. At 2.0, he was running drills in Stadio Monigo. He came on in the second half. Leinster won.

Beautiful

As another festive staple has it, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

“With the autumn internationals going on in November after I had just moved over, I was here for a month and then left again,” he recalls.

“It was a bit of a hiccup, a disruption, but I have total focus currently and I will take it from here.

“Leinster speaks for itself. The quality of guys, the quality of the team, the achievements over the years...

“It is something new, a different challenge. You can always do better as a professional sportsman. I had my time back at home and now it is time to build some new things here.”

Back home in the Western Cape, Kirchner made his name as a back-three player but Leinster supporters shouldn’t be surprised if he slots in as

an outside-centre on the odd occasion.

Indeed, he played out-half at school but, from the Griquas through the Blue Bulls in Currie Cup – then the Bulls in Super Rugby – he forged his name as an outside back; he played there against Rob Kearney on both the 2009 Lions tour and an autumn international that year.

You guess having a whirl at outside-centre would be on Kirchner’s wish list, even if Matt O’Connor largely sees him as a back three alternative to challenge the Kearney brothers.

“He is a world-class player,” enthuses O’Connor. “That is why we brought him into the environment. He is as good a full-back as there is in the world.

“He has been very, very good for us with a pretty short lead-in time with us. He will get better the longer he’s in the environment. He will understand the nuances and the combinations and he will be very, very good for us.

“As for where he plays, they are pretty transferrable skills. He could play across the back three for us, no problem.”

Kirchner was heavily pigeon-holed in a Springbok jersey; an accessory to the crimes against rugby that predominantly saw his country prefer graft to craft; Leinster may offer a better outlet for his skills.

“Different styles and ways of playing go with different teams,” he says. “The Bulls had a philosophy in which they believe and at Leinster we now have something totally different.

“You have to adapt to whatever is being brought to you by the coaches – as a player you always need to be willing to adapt, and it’s something I’m really excited about.”

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