Zane Kirchner is determined to repay Heyneke Meyer's faith in him with a statement-making performance against the Wallabies, reports JON CARDINELLI in Brisbane.
The selection of Kirchner has come as a shock. The 24-Test fullback last played for the Springboks in November 2012, and hasn't been part of the greater squad since the quadrangular series in June.
This hasn't stopped Meyer from rushing Kirchner into the starting line-up for one of the Boks' biggest Tests of the season. It's a decision that has prompted a negative reaction from the South African rugby public, who have evidently grown to appreciate the attacking genius of Willie le Roux.
It's feared that Kirchner is limited in what he can offer in that fullback position, and that the selection of Kirchner at No 15 is a step in the wrong direction.
On Wednesday, Meyer moved to dismiss such perceptions. Kirchner himself then used the media opportunity to take aim at his critics.
As Kirchner pointed out, a strong kicking game is needed in the modern game. Even the All Blacks (who are falsely perceived as a team that embraces all-out attack) possess a fine tactical-kicking game and a fullback (Israel Dagg) with a proclivity to put boot to ball.
'The negativity does get to you sometimes, it does frustrate you,' Kirchner said. 'It doesn't happen anywhere else but in South Africa, where they feel I'm the fullback who kicks more than any other fullback in the world. It's not true, and statistics confirm it.
'Look at the No 1 fullback in the world,' continued Kirchner, referring to Dagg. 'If you look at how much he kicks ... Why don't people complain about him?'
Kirchner has a point in that many fans fail to understand that rugby has moved on, and that even teams like the Crusaders and All Blacks have some of the finest tactical kickers in the world.
But despite Meyer's arguments to the contrary, Kirchner is a player who has much to prove. His kicking game has benefited the Boks and Bulls in recent years, but his tendency not to pass has often detracted from his team's attack.
Nevertheless, Meyer has granted Kirchner an opportunity this Saturday. Kirchner hopes that he can make a statement against the Wallabies.
'It's time to show what I'm worth,' he said. 'I haven't had a lot of game time recently [his last game of competitive rugby was for the Bulls against the Brumbies in the Super Rugby semi-final], so it's about getting myself ready mentally, getting into the right space.
'Heyneke has shown some confidence in my ability by starting me, and now it's all about proving him right. It's also about proving myself right, as I believe that I belong here. I see it as a fresh start for myself to get back into the team and cement my position.'
Asked about the strengths of his opposite number for this weekend's clash, Kirchner again made it clear that a fullback requires more than just pace and vision to be a success in the modern game.
Wallabies fullback Israel Folau may boast an abundance of both, but it's his strength under the high ball that has earned him extra respect.
'He has everything you need in a fullback, he is a strong counter-attacker but I really think his aerial skills are superb. We need to get the execution of our kicking game right this weekend, because Israel is very good under the high ball.
'You can't afford to kick the ball down his throat, because he will punish you. That said, you can't kick every ball, you will have to vary your play and keep the opposition guessing.'
Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images
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