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Why was Kirchner left out?

Published Jun 2, 2009


By Ashfak Mohamed

Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has created unnecessary problems for himself by not selecting an established fullback in the 28-man squad to take on the British and Irish Lions.

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Bulls star Zane Kirchner has just come off a superb Super 14 campaign and has been a revelation in his team's second title success. He has proven himself on several occasions as a quality player who can handle severe pressure quite smoothly. He has been tested throughout the Super 14 and come through it with flying colours.

Springbok selection convenor Peter Jooste this week described Kirchner as a "well-rounded player who can kick, pass and run well".

George-born Kirchner, who turns 25 on June 16, is one of those players who make things happen. Every time he gets the ball, he brings the crowd to their feet, as he usually does something exciting.

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He has a massive boot, is able to come into the backline on attack, and has good pace. With Conrad Jantjes out for the season due to injury, there cannot be a good rugby reason why Kirchner was not picked.

And with this decision De Villiers has put himself and his team under extra pressure. He claims he has recognised fullbacks in the squad, but you can hardly call JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Earl Rose and Francois Steyn "recognised fullbacks".

Steyn is probably most qualified to play in the No.15 jersey due to his big boot but he has been injured for most of the second half of the Super 14.

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He also hasn't played many games at fullback in his short career and in 2009 he has only played flyhalf and centre for the Sharks. It has been mooted that Pietersen is the likely choice at fullback but what is the point of that?

He has excelled as a right wing for the Boks for a couple of years, and there is no need to move him away from that position, especially as he does not have a good enough kicking boot.

Fullback is such a crucial position, particularly against the Lions, as Stephen Jones and Ronan O'Gara will try to hoist big up-and-unders to test the Bok fullback. I don't think Pietersen or Fourie will be able to clear their lines and relieve pressure for the Boks from the back.

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De Villiers will be creating two problems by not picking an established fullback: whoever plays there will be in unfamiliar territory and the Boks will be losing the cut and thrust of Pietersen at right wing if he starts at fullback.

I think that Odwa Ndungane is lucky to edge out twin brother Akona, who probably had a better Super 14 this year.

Odwa Ndungane is a solid player who fields kicks well and is a good attacker but does not possess the "X-factor" or set of skills that Pietersen has.

Jongi Nokwe is exclusively a left wing so will be competing with Bryan Habana for a starting berth. Of course, Fourie could be the surprise choice at right wing, but it still doesn't solve the fullback problem.

Selection to the Emerging Springbok side is scant reward for Kirchner. He can feel hard done by.

At least his provincial teammate, Morne Steyn, made the squad. Steyn has developed his game to the point where he can be described as a complete flyhalf

He has always been a superb kicker but is now also a good distributor and runner, while he controls the tempo at which the Bulls play, alongside scrumhalf Fourie du Preez. I think Steyn should start ahead of Ruan Pienaar at flyhalf but that is unlikely to happen.

Other than Kirchner, Cheetahs fetcher flank Heinrich Brussow is also unlucky and even though no one expected him to be chosen, Stormers loose forward Luke Watson should be there.

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