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'I like those collisions... Sometimes you go, ‘that’s a good f***ing hit, man’'

Getting run over by his dad’s truck at the age of six prepared CJ Stander for a love of contact.

CJ STANDER GOT used to dealing with physical impacts from an early age.

Growing up on the family farm outside the city of George in South Africa’s Western Cape, the rough and tumble was part of life.

One incident on the farm still stands out to the Ireland number eight, who admits he loves the heavy collisions now involved in his job.

CJ Stander injured Stander fractured his eye socket and cheekbone against England. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Stander fractured his eye socket and cheekbone against England in round one of the Six Nations, playing 58 minutes after the injury occurred, but he recalls an incident on the farm as being more painful.

“I remember when I was six-years-old my dad actually ran over me with the truck, the pick-up,” says Stander. “That was a Sunday evening and I went to school on a Monday morning. That was worse than this.

“My dad was going to feed the calves. Me and my cousin were on the farm and he was like, ‘Your dad is going to leave us’ and I was six and he was about 15. We ran after my dad. There was this narrow field so you could just reverse back and he couldn’t see us.

“We jumped on, my cousin was fine, but I missed the step and fell underneath and I hit my head on the ball-joint, where the trailer hitches on, and then I just remember my dad grabbing me from underneath and saying, ‘What are you doing?’

“I was like, ‘Sorry about that!’ I had a scar and I went to school on the Monday morning. That’s what happens on a farm. Me and my brother we were loose on the farm so we got used to those hits early.”

It was the literal school of hard knocks for Stander and that upbringing has helped to build an extremely high tolerance of physical pain in the Munster back row.

So when Stander was carrying the ball in the eighth minute against England and his face collided with the head of the tackling Tom Curry, there wasn’t an immediate realisation of the severity of the injury.

“It wasn’t really that sore,” says Stander. “I thought it was a nose break when it happened. My nose has broken probably six times since December so I thought it was just normal and kept on playing.

CJ Stander Stander is set for his return this weekend against France. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I blew my nose just after half-time and I could feel this little bump. I just spoke to the doc and he said, ‘It doesn’t look good’ and I was taken off after about 65 minutes.”

Stander goes on to explain that in terms of the pain, the incident against England “probably felt like a one or a two” out of 10.

“It just felt like a normal face hit,” says Stander matter-of-factly.

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“I didn’t really feel anything. I think the scrum cap… when you wear a scrum cap, you’ve got a bit of tunnel vision and I couldn’t really feel anything and when the doc told me to get off, I took it off and it felt like my cheek was sitting in the wrong spot.

“It wasn’t really sore. It just went numb. I’d severed a nerve about four years ago, going down from my eyebrow to my teeth so it would be numb anyway so that just flared up again so I couldn’t really feel anything anyway.”

The injury meant missing Ireland’s wins over Scotland and Italy but Stander is now back in full training and is set to make his comeback in Sunday’s clash with France in Dublin.

Despite returning from an injury caused by a collision, Stander’s appetite for that side of the game has not diminished in the slightest.

“I like those collisions, I like running into someone and getting a good hit. It’s a personal battle every time you run onto a pitch and when you get a good hit sometimes you go, ‘that’s a good f***ing hit, man’ and I can’t wait for the next one to get someone else back.

“There’s a feeling I get from carrying and tackling, I think all of us do. It’s a physical game and things can happen. We all love that feeling, it’s a good feeling, a bit of tingling in your stomach when you get a hit.”

CJ Stander Stander missed the wins over Scotland and Italy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Stander says the hardest part of the recovery process was not being able to chew solid foods for the first two weeks, relying instead on protein shakes and softer foods like pasta, with Ireland nutritionist Ruth Wood-Martin providing helpful advice.

Asked if he wanted time off, even just a week, Stander instead threw himself straight back into training with Munster, getting stuck into a running session on the Tuesday after the England game, then hitting the gym the following day.

He says he enjoyed the chance to “reconnect” with some of the other injured Munster players as they trained hard together and Stander is feeling refreshed after his stint on the sidelines.

“It was good to get that break. Sometimes when I was younger, not that I’m saying I’m old, but you just want to play and be involved in everything.

“I did a lot of speed work again, a lot of footwork, and just started enjoying training again. The four weeks was very good. It was good mentally, and on the afternoons off I did a few things around the house as well.”

Back in Ireland colours this weekend, expect to see Stander throwing himself into the collisions with his usual levels of gleeful abandon.

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