Dear Bryan, fancy free entry into Coppers any night you want?

Leinster’s signing of Zane Kirchner hasn’t exactly inspired the troops – a fan base used to foreign backs like Pippo Contepomi and Isa Nacewa (both Leinster legends) just doesn’t like what they see in Kirchner. There was a desire for a gassy specialist wing to come in – Leinster have a lot of players who can play on the wing, but very few out-and-out wingers. A pre-injury Drew Mitchell would have been ideal, for example.

Kirchner is a full-back who has played in the 3/4 line – he has accumulated 24 caps for the Springboks but is primarily known for his Sideshow haircut and his propensity for occasional clangers. He has a massive boot and is a decent counter-attacker, but doesn’t exactly know where the whitewash is – he has 3 tries in 22 starts vs 47 in 81 for Bryan Habana, 14 in 41 for JP Pietersen and 5 in 13 for Gio Aplon. It’s safe to say Leinster fans are underwhelmed, but could they really have done any better?

With it being exactly mid-RWC cycle, you aren’t going to get All Black or Wallaby contenders going north, as they won’t get picked for the national side. The Boks are less shy about picking overseas-based players, so your market is essentially South Africa and Europe (acknowledging most Argentinian / Pacific Islander pros ply their trade in Europe).

Plus there are some differences between the market now, and the market when the provinces were picking up the likes of Dr Phil, Isa, Dougie Howlett, Jean de Villiers, Ruan Pienaar, BJ Botha, John Afoa and Rocky Elsom. The major one being the financial power of the French clubs vis-a-vis the poor mouth Irish.  Indeed, even the far-flung Japanese league has enough financial muscle behind it to lure big names.  And while the ‘Player Succession Rules’ appear to be trapped in a terminal limbo, we can at least infer that the IRFU is less enthused than ever about recruiting expensive overseas layers.  Digby Ioane has just effectively come on the market, but even if Leinster moved heaven and earth to try and sign him, there is no way they could afford him.  The French or Japanese would simply outbid for him; he can effectively name his price as one of the best wingers in the world.

If Leinster are in the market for, say, a world class outside back from South Africa, they are competing against Toulon and Racing Metro. So it goes like this:

  • Top Class: Bryan Habana, Digby Ioane. Forget about it, Toulon will outbid you. And if they don’t, there are half a dozen other French or Japanese clubs who will
  • International Class: JP Pietersen. If no French clubs are interested, you have a chance, but how likely is that? Pietersen is in his prime, has bags of experience and demands Springbok selection when fit. If there are interested French clubs you are struggling from day one
  • Super Rugby Class: Zane Kirchner. Kirchner is mostly in the Bok team these days and has never fully convinced at the highest level. If the best French clubs, those who compete in the HEC, aren’t too bothered you have a shot

So Leinster’s universe was basically South Africans who don’t own a Springbok shirt – not ideal.

Ulster will face a similar problem replacing John Afoa – what prop will turn down a French team to play Pro12 rugby when you can have a situation where you can get more money for playing 50 minute games in a top-class league? Take Zurib Kubriashvili for example, out of favour this season and leaving Toulon in the summer – leaving aside the umbilical link between Georgian props and the Top14, if he leaves Toulon, as it reported, would Ulster even be at the table when it comes to serious offers? They would be outbid by any interested French club, and it’s hard to sell dreary Belfast as an alternate to the South of France.  Rumour has it he’ll end up at Wasps, another club with some newfound financial clout behind them.

Irish provinces have had a decade of dining at the top table when it comes to world class talent, but that era is ending – Kirchner is a good player and everything, but let’s say Leinster rolled up the money and sent it in a big bag to Craig Gilroy (not currently a starter for Ulster when everyone is fit), would the fans be any less happy? Would Leinster be any worse off? And would it be worse for Irish rugby in the round? Clearly Ulster lose out, but they have a few wings and get some recompense. Just saying like.

[Disclaimer: this piece was written by Egg the Ulsterman]




  1. ArtVandelay

     /  April 23, 2013

    “They would be outbid by any interested French club, and it’s hard to sell dreary Belfast as an alternate to the South of France. Rumour has it he’ll end up at Wasps, another club with some newfound financial clout behind them.”

    Are those two sentences not contradictory? I would have thought Ulster could compete very well against the likes of Wasps. Given the salary cap, surely Ulster’s packet would be comparable (newfound financial clout can only go so far in England) and Ulster can offer Heineken rugby, and a chance of a decent run at that. I would also think there would be a massive difference between the setups in Belfast and High Wycome.

    • ORiordan

       /  April 23, 2013

      Housing costs is one. Wasps training base is in Acton, West London, and this is a bigger dump than Wycombe. I know many Wasps players live in nearby leafy West London suburbs… all very pleasant… but it comes with a big price tag.

      The cosmopolitan life style of London may be attractive to some, but others may be more comfortable in a smaller town and (literally…) provincial lifestyle.

    • I guess the key point here is that Wasps have a new wealthy benefactor, which changes things. Also, English clubs are allowed one ‘marquee signing’ outside the salary cap and the brutish Georgian prop might just be that man.

      • I’ve heard consistent whispers of the salary cap in England getting abused by the handing out of well paying “jobs” in the commercial/hospitality/development departments to wives/girlfriends/siblings etc., thus adding an extra 50-100K to the contract under the radar.

        Certainly the poorer premiership clubs seem to openly suspicious of, but have never offered any hard evidence of salary cap, abuse by the top few clubs.
        Say, it ain’t so, WoC.

        • I wish we could. I really do…

        • ORiordan

           /  April 23, 2013

          I’m sure there are ways of getting a bit more out of the salary cap, but HMRC have been doing a big clamp down on these recently. The most commonly used method was to funnel payments for non-playing related activity (appearance fees, image rights…) into a company set up by the player. These payments were taxed at business rates, not income tax rates, and the club didn’t need to pay National Insurance on them. Avoiding NI contributions means that HMRC got very interested, and as a result, a number of Premiership teams got whacked for large tax bills after decisions that a lot of payments weren’t for legitimate business transactions.

          • Small scale Glasgow Rangers, basically.

          • ORiordan

             /  April 23, 2013

            Yup – the tax bills weren’t big enough to sink the clubs. The majority of AP clubs don’t bring in enough money to even spend up to the salary cap, let alone exceed it.

  2. ehhweasel

     /  April 23, 2013

    Is it fair to say that pedigree of a club isn’t that big a factor?
    Surely three HECs and the potential for more is a huge incentive that could outweigh the money that’s being offered in France?

    (No says Johnny Sexton)

  3. Laurence Rocke

     /  April 23, 2013

    Dreary Belfast as opposed to scintillating High Wycombe? Come on Whiff, when were you last in Belfast. As small cities goes, it isn’t that bad and the weather isn’t a lot worse than it is in, say, fabulous Dublin.
    The issue I have with Gilroy going to Dublin isn’t him going south, it’s the unfairness of the Republic’s tax law for sportsmen that means there is no chance of any players, Dominic Ryan, for example, coming north.
    I am actually pretty incredulous that Leinster have signed a player like Kirschner. Surely there are enough outside backs coming through the academies to give some of our own young guns a chance. You (along with most Leinster fans and me) appear to see him as little more than a decent journeyman). A mediocre signing until proven otherwise.
    Mind you, there were many up here who whinged mightily when the Nick Williams signing was announced…….

    • I’m from Belfast! Its fair to say Belfast isn’t as much fun as Lahn Innit.

      And I share your feeling on Nick Williams, and I’ve only slightly changed them – I don’t think he is of the standard Ulster should aspire to.

      • Bowe Gathers

         /  April 23, 2013

        If we’re being logical we ought to be sending Paul Marshall south to play with iMads before his career stalls. Heaney is able enough to be a consistent second string, played with PJ at school and ought to be happier with a spot on the bench that Marshall. Reddan and Boss’ careers are closing in, and PM would suit Mad’s desire to play on the gain line at all costs. And if we managed to sneak a player like Ryan or Ruddock in a trade, all to the good.

        Gillers is great and all, but if he loses form, breaks a leg or even spends a season out with a shoulder he’s done (ditto Zebo). Pace is a commodity, but it’s not the only one.

        • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

           /  April 23, 2013

          You underestimate the regard Leinster fans have for Cooney and McGrath. We aren’t worried about our halfback stocks other than can we give them all enough game time and opportunity to hang on to them.

  4. Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

     /  April 23, 2013

    There are the really big names that I agree are unattainable by any province in the current market. Habana, Digby etc…
    I don’t agree that we can only look at SA players. There are always players heading to Japan from NZ that might not be considered marquee status and would be nowhere near George Smith money.
    Problem with looking for an outside back is that all three Super nations have extensive sevens programs that preclude players from becoming Irish qualified. Larry Murphy, Paul Warwick etc…So the speedy/creative types will take the foreign slots in our squads.

    Considering all these factors there are many players that could be acquired for similar money or less than the €300,000 Kirchner seems to be getting.

    Lachie Turner
    Frank Halai
    Ben Smith
    Zac Guilford
    Kade Poki
    Lelia Masaga
    Gio Aplon
    JP Pietersen
    Clyde Rathbone
    Bjorn Basson
    Willie Le Roux
    Drew Mitchell
    Rudi Wulf
    David Smith

    *Many of these players are unavailable due to contract commitments*
    But in my opinion they would fit Leinster better and could be got

    • Leinsterlion

       /  April 23, 2013

      You have essentially got the gist of what I was going to say ,and the line of thinking most Leinster fans have. ZK is overpaid for what he is and his talent level. The joyous reaction on twitter and on every SA board and forum over ZK leaving sums up his talent imo. Compare that to Conway leaving us, a player who has never shown anything other than brief flashes of pace and ability, yet no one wanted him to leave and thought he had a future.
      We have paid a substantial amount of money to a guy who is defensively shaky and whose primary weapon is his boot, he cant step or offload. We have need of a utility back and a winger, we signed an out and out FB for big money, leaving us with very little fill the winger utility slot.
      We could have gotten superior players in the ITM or Currie cup, we have been blinded by his caps. A bizarre and depressing signing, we have essentially spent 200k on a dodgy backup for Rob Kearney.
      What will our backline look like next year, we have lost Isa, Sexton, Carr, Conway. Carr and Conway gave us pro 12 depth and Isa and Sexton are world class.
      15.RK, 14.Ferg/DK 13.Drico? 12. Darce 11.? 10. Maddog 9.Boss. With Fitzgerald lucky to be back before christmas, we have no proven left wing, Drico might retire, Boss and Cooney starting as 9’s with Redden out. Maddog and Jimmy at 10. Darce and Ferg at 12. Ferg also at RW. Kirchner covering for RK. That is seriously depleted and aged compared to this year and years gone by.

      • Fergal O'Shea

         /  April 23, 2013

        You’ll be grand when Mick Bradley comes in to coach your backline…anyway, doesn’t Leinster Class, like cream, always rise to the top, compared with impoverished Munster/Ulster?

        • Leinsterlion

           /  April 23, 2013

          Mick Bradley…..there is winding up, and there is being plain insulting. I believe, or in Munster parlance “have faith”, that the young guys will rise to the occasion, however, I dont think its a good idea to go into a season based on hope. That may fly in the more, eh, “traditional” areas of Ulster and Munster, but I dont think its a good strategy for Leinster to adopt.

  5. ORiordan

     /  April 23, 2013

    Is the decision where to go always purely about money?

    Some of the SH imports may not want to live in environment where the natives parler fransay (so not Toulon then…) so I’d have thought a team speaking a relatively understandable version of English would be a firm requirement of some, even though there may be more money in France.

    There has been some debate amongst Ulster fans how some openly religious players in the Ulster squad may be a factor behind attracting players that way inclined to god-fearing Belfast rather than, say, god-forsaken Wycombe (being tongue-in-cheek about it…)

    • Michael

       /  April 23, 2013

      Good point. My company does a lot of business in Japan. Its shit. And the language is impossible to learn. I think Stevie Ferris could really struggle out there.

  6. Len

     /  April 23, 2013

    As a die hard Leinster fan I’m not very excited by Sideshow Bok. He falls into the category of good Pro12 utility back and how he’s amassed 24 caps for SA is a bit beyond me. Having said that I seem to recall being told in 2008 that we’d signed a good utility back from the blues who would be there to cover a couple of positions but wasn’t likely to set the world on fire. Here’s hoping the Leinster management team can work the same voodoo on Sideshow as they did on Isa. Personally I’d have preferred Leinster to take a long term punt on this and look for a project player to fill the role. I agree we cant compete with the French money bags, however I think any player moving in search of silverware or experience would be more likely to move to Europe than Japan.

    • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

       /  April 23, 2013

      People who didn’t Rate Isa before he came, didn’t know a thing about him. He was Blues player of the year ’08 and could genuinely play anywhere in the backline. I was ecstatic when I heard he was coming and must say that he surpassed all of my already high expectations
      As for Kirchner, we’ve all seen him play on a number of occasions and are decent enough enthusiasts of the game to have made a reasonably informed opinion of what Leinster are getting.

      • Connachtexile

         /  April 23, 2013

        I trust Schmidt if he thinks he’s good enough than that’s fine by me. That said I would have preferred someone like Le Roux who is young can only improve and could be IQ someday.

        • Chogan (@Cillian_Hogan)

           /  April 23, 2013

          Fine when Joe was going to be Leinster coach next year and turn a piece of coal into a diamond. However, Joe won’t be there to do it so trusting Joe’s judgement is fairly irrelevant.

  7. Yossarian

     /  April 23, 2013

    When Leinster signed Isa we had reached a H-Cup semi final the year before and bolstered our ranks with CJ,Rocky and Isa.3 super rugby stars. Compare that to a group stage exit and losing Sexton,Isa and replacing them with ZK and Goperth. Shows the change in signings and financial clout/attractiveness of Leinster and arguably all the irish provinces. I think we would have looked to promote indigenous talent but the sudden loss of Isa, the departure of Carr and Conway meant we were a bit desperate and probably paid over the odds.

  8. Do you really think the Top 14 contains better rugby than the Pro12? Willy-waving between those two and the AP is daft; they’re all about the same.

    The issue of our provincial use of the national playing resources is something I don’t think that has ever been discussed enough. Personally I think there isn’t enough trading that goes on – but then the players are their own men too, and many might not fancy musical chairs.

    PS. Don’t think you need the disclaimer, though I understand why you had it here particularly; any points will either be good or bad, no matter which one of you write them (maybe don’t encourage the cries of “bias, bias” from some whenever they see something with which they disagree?).

    • I wouldn’t say the rugby is necessarily any better. The Top 14 can be turgid, and as we’ve mentioned numerous times, during the winter months it’s no more than a scrummaging and drop goal competition. But I think there’s more value placed on coming away with the spoils in the other two. The Pro12 is getting there and Leinster fans are desperate to win the league after losing three finals in a row, but it’s still seen as a consolation prize to the Heineken Cup. The Top Bouclier Brennus is the top priority for the clubs competing for it and there is a sense of event around the knockout games, even if the rugger doesn’t always live up to the colour and excitement of the occasion.

      • For most of the French teams the Bouclier is definitely the priority, but there’s been a shift. Toulouse clearly have loved the H-Cup from the start, while Toulon prioritise it and Clermont (if I remember right) have said it is their number one target this year.

        The Pro12 is much maligned and, while there is a lot of guff, that’s the same as either of the other two leagues. But I’ve watched about two games a week in recent months (when there has been fixtures) and there have been some crackers.

  9. zdm

     /  April 23, 2013

    It comes down to what Leinster are signing Kirchner for – do they need a world class full back/wing to help them tilt for the HC? No – they’ve got Bob for that.

    What they DO need is a full back/wing who is easily of a higher standard than the players left in the Pro 12 squads during the 6 Nations and a player with the experience to guide the promising youngsters through, say, an away game in the Welsh valleys when the big boys are off getting beaten by the Azzuri and the Scots.

    Kirchner fits this bill quite neatly. Sure they could throw their money at some like Habana but he will cost more than double and with Kirchner so far north, I’m sure Leinster are hopeful he will be out of Bok sight, out of Bok mind in the other international windows.

  10. ABROG

     /  April 23, 2013

    Surely there are some Welsh lads to be had on the cheap. Eli Walker would be a great signing or the Scarlets fb Williams. Both are fast and hard to catch. The zebre 11 was a handful on Sunday too, he’s gotta be considerably cheaper than ZK.

    • Mary Hinge

       /  April 24, 2013

      Rumour is Sinoti of Zebre (no 11) is about to sign for Connacht……..yippee!

      • Laighin Pit Operative

         /  April 24, 2013

        Great spot if true. Egg, you have neglected to mention Italian options here. If Connacht were smart enough to sign Sinoti, whom we should have considered after losing Carr and Conway, why couldn’t we be smart enough to make Giovanbattista Venditti an offer he couldn’t refuse before everyone else does?

        Bringing in mediocre Southern Hemisphere types to plug gaps in a team is what’s been holding the Azzurri back for over a decade, and now we’ve apparently adopted the strategy.

  11. Don

     /  April 24, 2013

    Oh Neil Morris. I didnt rate you when you were here, now youre in Lecesiter tearing it up.
    Come back my son, all is forgiven.
    I was personnally hoping for Willie Le Roux. Left out of the boks squad, young, talented, VERY fast, gas like I havnt seen since Hickey. And probably cheaper than ZK. I think he would have been open to a move and a new challange.
    The money that is (apparently) been paid to ZK is a big sticking point for me, if its true hes not worth it.
    And if I wanted to really cause a stir, I might add that some boks tell me ZK only ever got picked because of the SA quote for coloured players. A crazy racist system if ever I heard one.
    One thing Ill say in his favour though; hes not Rob Kearney.
    Get over it folks, RK has been terrible most of the season. Even when he won player of the season last year I wasnt overly convinced. ZK cant be much worse 😀
    Now Isa. There was a full back I would have babies with.

  12. Kearney one of the most overrated players in Europe but we’ve all seen Kirchner and he’s bog standard. Most pointless signing since Stefan Terblanche! Would much prefer to see a Rudi Wulf/Toeva/Hosea Gear targeted although I appreciate that after all the factors WOC mentioned there really isn’t that much to choose from. Why oh why didn’t Conway decide to actually see out his contract when/if he knew Isa was retiring, Carr was leaving and Fitz would be perennially crocked?! All he’d have to do is outplay Dave Kearney and he’d have been a starter for their biggest games!

    • Michael

       /  April 24, 2013

      How was Terblanche pointless? He was initially a 3 month sighing to cover for Payne’s injury. Ulster had lost to Leicester and got a lucky win against Clermont in their first 2 games. They had 2 games against Aironi whereby they could fudge it but needed a proper fullback who could catch/kick and knew where to stand for the last 2 pool games.

      Paddy Wallace was injured, Danielli was useless at full back and the management had lost all faith in D’Arcy. There was no Luke Marshall or Jackson to speak of (although there was Nevin Spence). So shifting say Ian Humphreys back there would have come at a cost.

      Basically they had no full back. Terblanche came in, and did a really respectable job on the pitch and was (by all accounts) a great asset in the changing room. Sure he was 36 or whatever and had lost a yard, but without him, i doubt Ulster would have seen the final. As short term last minute panic deals go, i’d say he was a far from pointless.

      • zdm

         /  April 24, 2013

        I’d agree with you Michael. At the time Terblanche was signed, I was underwhelmed – d’Arcy had a decent pre-season and looked to be moving through the gears nicely and with few expecting Ulster to have the season they did (pre-season target of Pro12 play off and out of the HC groups), the need for HC/Super rugby experience wasn’t there.

        As the seaon progressed (and as Ulster peaked in their shorts and a pair), Terblance became a key member of the squad. Many column inches has been devoted to the influence of Pienaar, Afoa and Muller but for me, it was Terblance who guided a talented but callow back line through the seaon, particularly when the internationals were away. By the end of the season, I was genuinely sad to see him go and I was worried how Ulster were going to replace him (before Payne emerged as a talent).

        If Leinster can get even a single season out of Kirchner like Ulster got out of Leinster while some of their younger players come of age, I’d say they will be happy.

        If I were a Leinster fan, I’d be much more worried about whether Madigan can play winter rugby (perhaps he can but his talents seem solely suited to hard pitches and clean, quick ball).

        • zdm

           /  April 25, 2013

          Meant to be “found a pair” and “like Ulster got out of Terblanche” – sorry, it was late etc.

  13. Yossarian

     /  April 24, 2013

    hope isa gets the nod at 15 against Biaritz but with the injuries i’m not sure he will.Not so much on how average Rob has been of late but more because Isa is much more effective from there.

  14. Laighin Pit Operative

     /  April 24, 2013

    We should give the lad a chance and reserve some judgement. Sideshow was a very promising youngster, so perhaps he had the will to live sucked out of him by the woeful Bulls/Boks tactics of the current era which require simply good fielding and a long boot, and less of the razzmatazz. He had it once, so it’s in there somewhere still, we hope!

    Thing is, though- there are a couple of obvious problems with this. Isa was indeed a utility back and there’s very little he can’t do… even flanks the scrum when we’re down a man… he is, in its true sense, world class, and I would also suggest fairly irreplaceable. His best position is FB, though. So being thin on the cover in so many areas now, we sign an out and out FB who, rumour has it, can perhaps cover OC. Not a great swap versatility-wise.

    If his game doesn’t revert rapidly he’s basically a much lesser version of Bob… his Sideshow! So he’s a like for like swap, reducing our tactical choices, as Isa is the opposite type of player to Bob… finds amazing running lines, outstanding counter and awareness and knows how to pass and offload.

    And finally Isa, a true star, was more than happy to play 9 thousand consecutive games and put in a monumentally brilliant shift in, say, Rodney Parade in the sleet in front of two goats and a building site. Now Sideshow is less than stellar, but I find it hard to believe he’ll possess the same tenacity, the same committment, the dame desire that makes Isa a true idol for the Leinster faithful.

    So basically give the lad a chance to show what he’s about… but a certain amount of worry is entirely justified at the moment…

  15. This is a really good article and highlights a lot of topical issues.

    A potential draft like system should be used possibly?

    Provinces should scout more Mafi, Nacewa, Tipoki, Payne were all super 15 players that turned out class.

  16. Kirchner is held in Keith Earls like esteem in South Africa from talking to a couple of people. Massive potential, moves position a fair bit, nobody knows his best spot, and hasn’t played up to his capabilities often.

    Also the Pro 12 is a pretty bad competition, all in all, clearly not the priority for most, Second string teams and academy lads a lot of the time.

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