Tuesday 23 April 2013

Is Zane Kirchner the right fit for Leinster

This article is a response to a piece from Whiff Of Cordite which can be seen here.

Leinster have decided to replace Isa Nacewa, a versatile back with Zane Kirchner, an out and out fullback. There is no doubt that Nacewa's best position is at fullback, thus it might make sense to replace him with a fullback, but Isa is used primarily as a winger, and slots in at outhalf relatively comfortably too. His extra placekicking option provides a lot of great options for Leinster.

The reason for Nacewa not playing at fullback is Rob Kearney. Kearney, while off form at the moment, is one of the best full backs in European rugby. Given that Nacewa is extremely effective from the wing, Leinster are losing nothing by playing both of them at the same time.

With Kirchner now however, there will be a decision to make. Kearney isn't going to be displaced, and Kirchner isn't versatile enough to place on the wing. Have Leinster just spent a reported €300,000 a year for a backup?

Kirchner has played outside centre and wing before, but those who've seen that argue he didn't look comfortable. Some could also argue that Kirchner isn't good enough in his favoured position of fullback. WoC mention that Kirchner "is primarily known for his Sideshow haircut and his propensity for occasional clangers" while going on to say that Kirchner has only scored 3 tries in 22 games for South Africa. While that stat isn't impressive, stats don't always tell the full story, for example, Mike Brown hasn't scored in 11 games for England, but is a dangerous runner with ball in hand, and often creates opportunities for others. Those who have seen Kirchner in Super Rugby level know that he isn't capable of that, and at 28, doesn't have the time to develop that.

While he starts for South Africa, he is one of the most over-rated players in the Southern hemisphere. This is the same South African policy who continue to overlook Heinrich Brussouw, possibly the best breakdown player in the world, for bigger and beefier men like Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermulean. This is the same South African selector who commented that South Africa are miles behind Australia and New Zealand in terms of breakdown work, but that the Cheetahs have it right. Guess who Heinrich Brussouw plays for?

What Leinster are getting:

There's no doubt in my mind that Kirchner is the incumbent of the South African fullback jersey because he's bigger than his numerous more talented rivals - Gio Aplon, Joe Pietersen, Willie le Roux, Jaco Taute and Riian Viljoen.

Aside from the fact that Kirchner isn't good enough, he's behind both Kearney's in my mind for the fullback jersey, he is coming into a position that Leinster don't really need cover. With both Kearneys, Fitzgerald, Madigan and Reid able to play fullback, it shouldn't be a priority to sign one. With only Fitzgerald and Hudson as wingers for next season, with McFadden and David Kearney able to cover, Leinster are very short on wingers. Fitzgerald is also out with a serious injury so winger should have been a priority.

WoC's final point on replacements is partly true, Leinster and Ireland can't match Japan and France's wages and thus are out of the market for the Digby Ioane's and Drew Mitchell's and other marquee signings, and as such should be satisfied with Zane. However, for that money that Kirchner is on, a number of Southern Hemisphere players that are better could be attracted:

Reds - Rod Davies and Dom Shipperley are two young wingers with serious pace. Neither are guaranteed their for the Reds, especially with the Reds academy producing some great kids coming through. One or the other could be persuaded, but both have Australian caps.

Waratahs- Tom Kingston made his Waratahs debut when he was 19. Now 21, he covers both outside centre and wing, and is being used sparingly as the Tahs have an embarrassment of riches in the back three. Could be worth a punt

Force- Alfie Mafi is inexplicably left out of the Australian squad recently. He is 25, and has improved year on year since breaking through. Comfortable at fullback but primarily a winger, Mafi is almost singlehandedly keeping the Force competitive this season.

Chiefs - Less likely but Tim Nanai-Williams might be attracted. Comfortable at 13, wing or fullback, the prospects of Nick William's brother becoming an All Black appear slim. Recently he has struggled to keep Richard Kahui out of the starting XV, but scores some great tries.

Highlanders - Kade Poki is one of a small number of Highlanders who are enhancing their reputation this season. In what appears to be a sinking ship, Poki might want a fresh start, and Leinster would falll over themselves to have Poki who has been profilic in Super Rugby in the last 3 years, injury permitting.

Blues - Less likely again, but anyone of George Moala, Frank Halai and Charles Piutau would be incredible signings. Each have lit up Super Rugby this year, with Piutau almost definitely a future AB, with the others possibly following. There is a small chance they could be persuaded. Piutau has Dagg and Ben Smith ahead of him, with Andre Taylor close.

Hurricanes - With Piutau making waves for the Blues, Andre Taylor's chances of becoming an AB appear to be receding. He was incredible in 2012, but appears off the boil this year. Still extremely talented. Primarily a fullback, but has the skills for wing, in much the same way Nacewa does.

Cheetahs - Initially there were strong rumours for Willie le Roux coming to Leinster. He is possibly the closest to Nacewa out there. Uncapped by the boks, at 23, he wouldn't take up an NIQ slot, and would have enough time to play for Ireland. Started his career at out-half, and appears at first receiver often, he has the skills to put people through, or score some wonderful individual tries. Naturally a winger who can play fullback, almost exactly what Leinster need. He's hardworking, and capable of magic. Still my top choice.

Bulls - Kirchner isn't even the best option from his current team. Lionel Mapoe has appeared this year, and has done well on the wing, and can play outside centre. Bit more about him than Kirchner.

Stormers - Joe Pietersen and Gerhard van der Heever. van den Heever is a strong quick winger, and Pietersen should be the bok fullback, with him not getting a look in, it would be worth a punt. He's also a placekicker to boot.

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