Cape Town - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s selection of Zane Kirchner ahead of Willie le Roux at fullback may raise some eyebrows among Bok fans, but with almost the entire backline retained from Buenos Aires it was hardly surprising.
According to the supersport.com website, Meyer has spoke at length about the break of almost a month between the game in Argentina and the Springboks' Rugby World Cup opener against Japan in Brighton on Saturday as the basis for keeping his backline intact.
With several other players returning from injury, the Bok management wanted as little disruption as possible and also wanted to reward those who performed in South America when the team faced one of its toughest challenges.
Add to this the fact that Kirchner had a blinder in the game, much better than most would give the Leinster fullback credit for.
But that seems to be always the case when discussing Kirchner’s form, especially as the fullback has hardly set a foot wrong in a Bok jersey, has excellent positional play, is solid under the high ball and provides an integral linking role when the Boks want to play a bit wider.
Le Roux’s form over the current international season has been poor, with his tactical kicking becoming a tough sell at the moment and some of his decision-making being questioned. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that he has that something special, and is widely considered to be a gamebreaker.
But Le Roux has also struggled a bit with injury, which saw him miss the Buenos Aires Test match as well.
Meyer’s call on Kirchner came within the context of a back three that looked good in South America, and deserved to be rewarded for their performance.
“The tough call was that we had to decide if we wanted Pat (Lambie) to play fullback? Do you want two specialist fullbacks or a guy who stands in there,” Meyer said.
“I feel that Zane has often come in for some stick as a player in South Africa, he’s played 30 Test matches, not just under my coaching but with others as well and we’ve had some great wins with him there. I just felt he did well in Argentina, I know what Willie (Le Roux) can add, and Willie has been struggling a little bit and couldn’t play that last game.
“Also there are a lot of guys who haven’t played for a while and we didn’t have a warm-up game before the tournament, the last one was three and a half weeks back. In rainy conditions Zane is used to it, and it is the same back three from Buenos Aires.”
Meyer said he had been impressed with how Kirchner had grown as a player in Ireland and his communication as part of the back three had contributed to the decision to retain him in his position.
Le Roux would return at some stage in the pool rounds and a final decision will be taken before the knockouts, where the best available team will play onward in the tournament.
“Willie will definitely feature and it is great to have two separate fullbacks, I’ve been very impressed with Zane and the way he has played in Ireland, he knows the conditions and he has grown as a person,” Meyer explained.
“I was surprised by the way he takes control and his communication. He is a leader as well. Saying that, Willie is definitely not out of the mix, and will definitely get a chance in the next few games, but it was the right call to go with two specialist fullbacks. You can use Willie as an impact player, both can play wing as well and Zane can play centre.
“Although for this game Pat covers fullback for us, I want him to focus on 10. We will make the final decision going into the quarters, but Willie will feature.”
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 JP Pietersen