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'I lost a lot of friends and coaches along the way so it’s good to give them something back'

CJ Stander understands the significance of winning a Grand Slam at Twickenham.

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

CJ STANDER ADMITS next weekend’s clash with England at Twickenham is the biggest game of his career as Ireland look to win the Grand Slam for the first time in nine years.

Ireland v Scotland - NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship Stander had another big game against Scotland this afternoon. Source: Ramsey Cardy

Joe Schmidt’s side were this evening crowed Six Nations champions following the bonus-point win over Scotland and England’s defeat in Paris, but the squad are fully focused on completing the job in London on St Patrick’s Day.

Only Rob Kearney and captain Rory Best remain from the squad which last won the Grand Slam back in 2009, so there is now huge emphasis from within the group itself to take the next step and make history.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Stander said of next week. “You set goals for yourself at the beginning of the year and on a personal level you strive to be part of that.

“Now we’ve got an opportunity and we’ve got to make sure we rest up and get ready for next week.

“We’ve talked to players and ex-players who have got it [a Grand Slam]. This group we haven’t had the opportunity so we can look back at how they did it and what it meant to them. We’ve still got a job to do.”

Will it be the biggest game of your career to date?

“Yeah, for sure. There’s an opportunity to create something for ourselves as a group.”Some of us, it’s their first Six Nations, some of us have been here for a few years. Preparation wise, put the head down, make sure you train well and get into the team for Saturday.”

Barring injury, Stander can take it as a given that he’ll be starting in the number eight jersey again in seven days time, particularly after another colossal shift against Scotland this afternoon.

The Munster forward was one of a number of players to stand out at the Aviva Stadium as he fronted up defensively, in particular, making 12 tackles as well as a number of typically meaty carries.

“It was a physical game, with a lot of tempo in it,” he said. “They tried to get the ball wide and the first 40 was tough and physical, same with the second half. The try we got just before half-time gave us a bit of a boost.”

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CJ Stander celebrates with wife Jean-Marie after the game Stander and his wife Jean-Marie after the game. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Indeed, Ireland managed to strike at crucial junctures — just before and after the interval — through Jacob Stockdale and then Conor Murray, with the hosts showing the clinical edge they’ve developed under Schmidt to score four tries in total.

It’s now 11 straight Test victories for Six Nations champions Ireland, an achievement Stander says the group want to use as a springboard for greater success.

“You need to use your opportunities,” he continued. “We said as a group we wanted to achieve something. That was probably in the back of our minds, we’ve played well in the last few games, got lucky as well in a few games.

“Some games we were physically dominant. It’s a great achievement for this group and hopefully we can push on.”

While the players were able to savour and cherish the championship-winning moment in the company of family and friends at the post-match dinner, Stander insists the immediate focus is now on preparing physically and mentally for one final hurdle.

“I think we have to make sure we recover well,” the 27-year-old.

“It has been a long campaign, so it’s about making sure you know what you are doing on the pitch and making sure you know what you stand for and what you are playing for.

“A lot of players make a lot of sacrifices. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to be here but a lot of people stuck their head out for me and taught me a lot of the game.

“I lost a lot of friends and coaches along the way so it’s good to give them something back.”

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Ryan Bailey

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