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'I’m never going to be an Irishman, but I can try my best' - Stander

CJ Stander is learning exactly how demanding Test rugby is.

AS IS SEEMINGLY the case during every new Six Nations campaign, there have been calls for World Rugby to increase their residency rules for Test rugby.

There exists a feeling that three years is too short a time in which to become eligible for an adopted nation, particularly with unions actively searching for players to sign with such a qualification in mind.

CJ Stander Stander now has three Ireland caps. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

However, many Ireland supporters will be thankful that CJ Stander was lured to these shores back in 2012 and that last November saw his required three-year residency period come to a conclusion.

The 25-year-old says international rugby has taken some getting used to, but he has been one of the bright sparks in a disappointing campaign for Joe Schmidt’s men so far.

The absence of Peter O’Mahony through injury saw Stander appointed as Munster’s stand-in captain earlier this season, while the South African native has also stepped into the Cork man’s shoes on Ireland’s blindside flank.

A man-of-the-match performance on his debut against Wales was followed up by two solid showings against France and England. He has sung Amhrán na bhFiann as passionately as any native, and yet still has a point to prove to some fans.

“The thing is, I’m always going to be South African. I’m never going to be an Irishman, but I can try my best,” says Stander. “I can get an Irish passport in the next 18 months, that would be ideal, but I will try to be the best South African Irish person I can be.

“Playing for Ireland, it’s something I’ve learned down in Munster. I’ve tried to take in all of the culture and country, tried to learn what Ireland is about. I’ve done a lot from my side and I enjoy it, I enjoy playing for Ireland.

“It’s something different, but I’ve worked hard the last three years and I wanted to do it and being here now, the last six weeks have been the best time of my life.”

CJ Stander Stander carries the ball against the English. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

One can only imagine, therefore, how good these last six weeks would have been for Stander if Ireland could have registered a win. The Munster back row has yet to taste victory in the green jersey, although that first win should prove a formality tomorrow against Italy in Dublin.

Stander’s ball-carrying on debut against Wales was impactful as he made 38 metres with 23 runs, though the French kept him relatively quiet with 14 metres in 19 carries and then the English proved difficult to break down as Stander made 14 metres in nine runs.

The three costly losses of possession inside the Welsh and French 22s will have been highlighted in his analysis.

There were a few gaps when I could have made more yardage, but it’s international rugby,” says Stander. “You have to work hard for your metres. I realised that against Wales, it’s not just about running hard, you have to run into space, or a weak shoulder.

“Against England, sometimes you just have to truck it up. I was in that position at Twickenham.”

Stander has also had to get himself tuned to the greater demands of the breakdown in Test rugby. The former Bulls bruiser took time to acclimatise to stealing ball on the deck for Munster, and the adaptation is familiar now with Ireland.

“Yeah, the quality of the touches in the ribs are like a Champions Cup game,” says Stander with a smile. “If you are on the ball, you have to survive the clean out and if you survive the clean out, you get the ball.

Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander Stander and van der Flier link up in the back row again. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“A few times I didn’t get the reward but I didn’t survive the clean out, so what can you do? I have learned from the first two matches. I’ve just got to survive the clean out and get the ball back.”

Given the sense of responsibility Stander must feel at Munster in his position as captain amidst the poor season the southern province is enduring, there must be some sense of liberation for the back row in playing for Ireland.

That said, Stander feels he can bring more and more to the leadership side of the game as he grows into the international environment.

Being captain you always have something to say, but when I walked in here I wanted to just bring energy to the team. There are enough leaders here. I want to bring energy to the pitch, perform as best I can all the time, don’t let the boys down.

“As the weeks move on, I have started to speak more and more. We have good leaders in the team – we have Rory, Jamie and Johnny - so there is not much to say.”

As ever, Stander will do his talking on the pitch tomorrow, with ball in hand.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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