Zane Kirchner’s South Africa call-up to delay Leinster debut
Fullback will line up for the Springboks against Australia this weekend
Zane Kirchner’s South Africa recall has proven controversial, as the fullback has not played in a Test since November. Photogrtaph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Leinster’s decision to tempt South Africa’s Zane Kirchner to Dublin has turned out to be a double-edged sword for new coach Matt O’Connor. The fullback was yesterday selected by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer to start in their next match against Australia in the Rugby Championship on Saturday.
Not only is that likely to delay Kirchner’s arrival at the RDS until after October 5th, when South Africa play their final event in the tournament against New Zealand in Ellis Park, but exposes him up to injury risk prior to his Leinster debut.
When Ruan Pienaar came to play for Ulster, he arrived with an injury to his AC joint and missed his country’s final matches in what was then the Tri-Nations, following a long domestic season in South Africa.
The decision to select Kirchner, who had been out of favour at national level, has been seen as controversial. And Meyer was forced to defend his selection policy of bringing in the Leinster-signed player and shifting Willie le Roux out to the wing. Le Roux has started all five tests at fullback this season.
Kirchner has not played in a Test since last November. Indeed, he has played little rugby over the past few months due to his struggle with a hand injury. Meyer argued that the selection of the former Bulls’ player was not a conservative decision by him.
“He’s a quality player and the perception that he is conservative or that my selection of him is conservative is not accurate,” said the Springbok coach.
“You go back and look at what he’s done for the Bulls in Super Rugby. He’s been there and there-abouts in terms of the top try-scorers season after season. He started at fullback for the Boks last year, and he was at fullback when we scored five tries against the Wallabies at Loftus Versfeld in what was a fine attacking performance.
“I’m confident that we have the right back-three combination for this game against the Wallabies. I’m also confident that players like Zane can offer us a lot on attack.”
Leinster have already met Kirchner when he came over to Dublin in the off-season. While just this week Leinster kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy outlined that Leinster were badly short on outside channel players following the departure of Fionn Carr and Andrew Conway at the end of the season.
“Zane was over with us in Dublin a few weeks ago in between the end of the Super 15, when the Bulls got knocked out and the start of the Rugby Championship,” said Leinster manager Guy Easterby. “Zane was having a child anyway, which I think came early. He had his first girl so he would have been unavailable anyway during that period.
“Obviously he’s missed out in selection for the first couple of games but it was important to get him across, get him acclimatized a little bit. When he comes over we need him to be firing on all cylinders. That’s the most important part of it.”
In Connacht, who play Italian side Zebre in the opening match of the league on Saturday, head coach Pat Lam welcomed back the former Stormers winger Danie Poolman to full training this week. The 24-year-old, who missed the Wasps and Newcastle pre-season games, is now available for selection.
However, Eoin McKeon, who suffered an ankle sprain last week is among the new injury concerns and is likely to be out of action for up to two weeks.
McKeon is joined on the sidelines by outhalf Miah Nikora, who is also unavailable for the opener due to a shoulder injury.
Although Zebre did not win a league match last season, on the last two occasions the teams have clashed less than seven points separated them.
The Connacht starting XV will be announced at noon tomorrow.