Kronfeld part of a new wave

New Zealand have unearthed another impressive flanker. Tim Glover reports
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The Independent Online
All you see is this blurred vision of a comparatively small man in strange leather headgear dashing all over the field. Josh Kronfeld seems to be everywhere, simultaneously. With a name like that, the New Zealand open-side flanker is, of course, a freak.

After the All Blacks-Wales game at Ellis Park, photographers developed their film and found Kronfeld in every shot. He's qualified to play for Germany or Western Samoa - Kronfeld's father, a plumber, is a German-Samoan. "My mum's a standard Kiwi," he said - but chooses, naturally, to play for a country that is unparalleled in producing great back-row forwards. At a press conference yesterday Kronfeld sat next to one of the greatest, Brian Lochore, now the New Zealand "campaign manager".

Kronfeld has made a big impression in this World Cup but Lochore, the All Blacks coach when they won the Cup in 1987, politely tried to lower the hype. "We had some fit number sevens in our day," he said. "The role hasn't changed that much, it's just that now we've got an open-side flanker and a blindside. The game hasn't changed a great deal either."

The game has changed immensely. If the All Blacks once drew their natural strength from the farming community, they now produce players like Kronfeld. He will be 24 four days before the World Cup final; he looks like a white Mike Tyson and he teaches maths and physical education at a school in Otago. "It's an opportunity to make a career," he said, "but I'm not sure it's exactly what I want to do." We know what he wants to do. What did you enjoy most at school? "Surfing." Kronfeld is the All Black who goes amongst the White Pointers, the sharks, in the big waves off Dunedin.

"I get out there as much as I can," he said."In the eight footers it's physically tough but it's also a way of relaxing." Kronfeld is of the new wave but the old discipline. From Hawke's Bay to university in Dunedin, he has been dynamic for Otago for the last two seasons and played in only one international before making the All Blacks' World Cup squad. He has been given the No 7 jersey not only because he is in outstanding form but also because the great Michael Jones refuses, on religious grounds, to play on a Sunday.

"I was really tentative in the trials but once I started knocking into them I began to feel confident," Kronfeld said. The medical profession would probably wince at the sight of Kronfeld running into people. His head is shaved and he wears a scrum-cap to protect himself from further injuries. "It's part of my equipment," he said, "just like my mouth guard." He is not unaware that the Ivory Coast wing Max Brito will be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life after damaging his spine in the game against Tonga last Saturday.

Three years ago Kronfeld took a kick to the head and a year after that he had a neck injury. "I was always getting bruises and cuts to my head. The scary part was that I had double vision and was struggling to see."

When Kronfeld picked up a newspaper in the morning he couldn't read it; when he played rugby he even had difficulty seeing the ball. He consulted a neuro-surgeon, strengthened his neck muscles and has had no serious repercussions although once in a while he has the odd spasm. Hence the scrum-cap.

Ireland and Wales saw plenty of Kronfeld in the group matches and he scored tries against both. He gives the impression of perpetual motion and is even faster than Neil Back, the Leicester and England flanker who has such a hard time trying to prove himself, at international level, against bigger men. If Jack Rowell, the England coach, was in charge of New Zealand it is just possible that Kronfeld would not get a look in.

Scotland, who play the All Blacks in the quarter-finals at the Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Sunday, will know all about him. So will Scott Hastings. Playing for the Lions against Otago in 1993, Hastings tackled Kronfeld, suffered a double fracture of the cheekbone and was flown home.

The All Blacks produce a media guide and this is a sample from Kronfeld. Question: What is your favourite film quote? Answer: "I saw your mother walk down the street kicking a can. I said what are you doing and she said 'moving'." It's from White Men Can't Jump. Question: If you could be any three people, who would they be? Answer: "Michael Barrymore, Jimmy Page, Pamela Anderson."

Brian Lochore, not to mention the Scottish half-backs, will have to keep an eye on this lad.