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'For us to be together for those four or five days was the best time of my life'

CJ Stander and his wife, Jean-Marié, now have a baby daughter named Everli.

LEAVING FAMILY TO go back into camp is always tough for rugby players but CJ Stander found it more difficult than most to pack his bags and join Ireland on their trip to Portugal last Wednesday.

For the first time, the powerful number eight had to leave his daughter to go abroad.

Born on 2 August, Everli Stander is now the pride and joy of the Ireland international and his wife, Jean-Marié.

“It’s unbelievable,” says Stander of his daughter’s birth. “She’s doing well, she’s feeding well, sleeping well. Jean-Marié is doing great. She’s perfect.

CJ Stander Stander and his wife now have a baby daughter. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s something in the last three years that was on top of my goals and lists to achieve, to be able to give that to Jean-Marié and myself, to complete our family. It’s been an unreal few days.

“I got a few days off as well, spent some time with them, just to make sure they got home OK. For us to be together for those four or five days was the best time of my life.

“We worked so hard, especially Jean-Marié, to get to that stage and to hold her in her arms and to see her, she’s perfect. I can’t wait for her to grow up one day.”

Stander appreciates that heading away with Munster and Ireland will never be easy, no matter what age Everli is, and that he may miss little moments when he’s not there.

But right now, he has another massive goal with Ireland looming as they prepare to fly out from Portugal to London this afternoon before playing England in Twickenham on Saturday, all of it leading towards the World Cup in Japan.

“If I Skype now and see pictures of her, she’s changed already,” says Stander. “When I left, her eyes were still closed because she was born two weeks early but just to see her now on Skype, being busy, moving around, it is tough.

“I knew it and Jean-Marié knows it, Everli didn’t know it but I knew it was going to happen. There’s a big, big goal at the end of this and if I can celebrate it with them, I mean…”

Stander trails off but it’s clear what he means. He’s hopeful that his wife and daughter, as well as other family members from South Africa, will be able to travel over to Japan to share in any celebrations that Ireland might earn.

CJ Stander Stander and Ireland training in Portugal on Tuesday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The number eight qualified to play for Ireland just before the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup and taking part in Japan has been a primary career objective since that day.

“To go to a World Cup is any boy’s dream, since you can think, since you can add one and one, it’s anyone’s dream to go to a World Cup,” says the 29-year-old.

“To be part of this group and representing this group would be unreal. It would be an unbelievable dream. It’s something I’ve really worked hard towards in these last few years.”

Stander was five-years-old when the Springboks won the World Cup on home soil in 1995 and his memories are understandably hazy.

“I don’t really remember the final, I don’t know why. If I think back, our family probably had a massive barbecue and made a massive day of it. But, earlier games, I remember just sitting on a single, slide-out sofa for myself one Friday night and watching one of the games.

“I can’t remember which game or who was playing but I remember watching the World Cup and thinking to myself, ‘That’s unreal’.

“Five-years-old, I’m still taking boogers out of my nose at that stage. After that, all the World Cups, all the games, I’ve been glued to the TV. It’s been a big thing for our family as well and it would be an unbelievable dream to go to a World Cup.”

While he is the incumbent at number eight heading into this tournament, Stander faces competition from Leinster man Jack Conan at the back of the scrum.

CJ Stander The Munster man has played across the back row for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Munster back row has played a lot of rugby for Ireland at blindside flanker and even some at openside, and he acknowledges that being comfortable shifting around positions could be important in Japan.

“Between six and eight, I’m comfortable. I’ve hit that groove and kept that groove and been chipping away at that. Eight is the favoured one, yeah.

“Seven is a bit different. I try to get my hands on the ball but seven is more the ground work, the dark arts work that nobody really sees, that’s a different type of thing.

“It’s a mindset thing, if you have to switch, you have to be ready to go to a deep place, because I think the boys really work hard on the openside.”

Wherever he is picked, Stander is simply excited to be heading to his first World Cup, confident in the belief that Ireland can compete.

“We train hard, we train well, we have a good squad, great coaches and unbelievable management. We’ve got all the right tools.

“If we do what we train hard to do every week, we’ll give ourselves a chance. It’s going to be an exciting World Cup, everyone is doing well. For rugby, what more do you want? As a spectator, it’s going to be a big show.

“It’s wide open. For everyone who loves rugby, it’s going to be unbelievable.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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