Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Zane Kirchner looks forward to festive challenge

New surroundings: Zane Kirchner is spending Christmas in Ireland

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."

The traditional 'asking Johnny Foreigner what it's like to be stuck in dreary Ireland at Christmas' routine is as familiar as Noddy Holder's annual screeching greeting of the festive 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. 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 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 reason he left the Bulls was because of his dwindling influence with the national side; Heyneke Meyer's reversal of his 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 20 odd players for a hike to Treviso, dialled him.

He watched his country's game at Stade de France, went to bed at 3.30am, woke two hours later and was in the airport at 6.00am. At 2.00pm, he was running drills in Stadio Monigo. He came on in the second-half. Leinster won.

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

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