Kirchner set for Bok debut

Zane Kirchner will start at fullback in a Springbok team that sees mass change, especially in the backs.

Only five of the run-on 15 that started the second Test are retained, as coach Peter de Villiers opted to give his fringe players a hit out, and preserved the majority of his first choice crew with an eye on the Tri-Nations.

The back division sees a massive overhaul with last week’s hero Morne Steyn getting a start at flyhalf, while Wynand Olivier and Jaque Fourie front in midfield. There’s also an all new back three, with Kirchner, Odwa Ndungane and Jongi Nokwe deployed.

Ryan Kankowski gets a rare start ahead of Pierre Spies, while Heinrich Brussow starts the first of what must be a series of Tests in the absence of Schalk Burger.

Johann Muller, who was unlucky to miss out on the Springbok squad for the series initially, will partner Victor Matfield at lock, while his Sharks teammate Steven Sykes is likely to earn his first cap off the wood.

‘I felt it best to beef up the forwards by including Steven, especially with Bakkies’ suspension upheld,’ De Villiers told keo.co.za.

‘We can never replace Bakkies, but Steven does give us that beef we need, especially since we expect the Lions are going to try and employ some drives against us. We also want to give good ball to our backline and to secure that we need a strong tight five.’

Chiliboy Ralepelle earns his fourth Test cap at the expense of Bismarck du Plessis. Despite limited game time in the Super 14 for the Bulls, De Villiers believes he will hit the ground running.

‘Chiliboy is an outstanding rugby player from a technical and positional perspective,’ he explained.

‘If he didn’t have that injury a year ago I think he would have been the No 1 hooker in South Africa now. It will be interesting to see how he goes, particularly from a psychological perspective.’

De Villiers explained the changes saying, ‘Seeing that the Lions are only here once every 12 years I thought it would be fair to give everyone a run. If they missed this game it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity gone.

‘I believe they are as good as the players they are replacing and I’m looking forward to them doing a good job.’

Kirchner’s superb form for the Bulls earned him a spot in the Emerging Boks team, and with De Villiers deciding to rest key players, he has the opportunity to Test himself against some of the northern hemisphere’s elite players.

He was training with the Bulls on Monday morning when the call came from the Springbok management, and three hours later was running plays with the national side.

‘It is unbelievable really, I’m still overwhelmed,’ Kirchner, whose confident posturing belied the butterflies he felt in his stomach, told keo.co.za.

‘No, no, I’m definitely nervous,’ he laughed, ‘it’s my first Test after all, and I’m feeling the nerves as we speak.’

Kirchner said he wouldn’t change his game at all, stressing that it’s the approach that got him to this point. ‘I think that was probably the best I’ve played in my career, but the best is yet to come,’ he said.

He added that he was prepared for the Lions to target him, but insisted that he was prepared for whatever avenue of attack they chose to exploit.

Asked how big a step up from Super Rugby this match would be, Kirchner said, ‘I think the last couple of games in the Super 14 resembled Test rugby. The difference will be less errors, and less time and space to operate in. Other than that I think I’m pretty well prepared.’

Reflecting on the controversy of the last week De Villiers said too much had been made of his comments, and preferred not to revisit that episode.

He also refused to comment on the Lions’ statement that, contrary to his assertion, Lions coach Ian McGeechan did in fact congratulate him twice after the second Test.

‘It’s our word against theirs. The South African media have already made me out to be a liar,’ he lamented.

‘Lets see who wins the third Test, and if they do I’ll go into their changeroom and give Ian McGeechan my congratulations.’

Asked if he had learnt any lessons about his conduct in the past week, and if he’d do anything differently, De Villiers said, ‘I won’t change my style. If I did I would be changing Peter de Villiers, then I would have to go back to God and say “You’ve done a bad job”.

‘I allowed the negative British press to affect me. It was the same in ’74,v’80 and now in ’09. What a stupid bugger I am.

‘If they can’t beat you on the field they try to assert their superiority in other ways. It’s nothing new, it’s been happening for ages. But I allowed it to affect me.’

Springboks – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Johann Muller, 3 John Smit, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthro Steenkamp, 18 Deon Carstens, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Pierre Spies, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Frans Steyn.

By Ryan Vrede, in Johannesburg