Training with a sheep has jackal specialist CJ Stander in fine fettle

The Munster back row is heading into the restarted Six Nations in superb form.

CJ STANDER’S RETURN to the family farm in George, South Africa for the first lockdown meant he had to improvise with his training.

The Munster and Ireland back row says that helping out with everyday duties around the farm was good for “general movement,” while his 27-year-old brother, Janneman, who has played in the Currie Cup, had put together a bit of a home gym.

Stander says he didn’t plan the part where he trained with a sheep but it proved to be a viral hit when he put a video of it on Instagram.

“The sheep surprised me,” explains Stander. “I was doing tempo runs and my brother is a bit of a lunatic so when I turned back after 50 metres and someone just smacked me from behind, I thought it was him.

“I got up and was ready for a proper old-school fight, bare-knuckle.

“It was this sheep standing there. I was a bit surprised. He just kept on coming.

“I picked up my rugby ball to run away and saw that he kept on coming. I actually enjoyed it. A lot of people say that I don’t have footwork so it was an opportunity to show myself that I can get out of the way of danger.”

Stander says the video didn’t go down well with everyone who saw it.

“I got a few phone calls from people afterwards that told me that contract-wise if something like that happened I would be in trouble!

“I didn’t share any more videos but I went at it a few times. If you have time and a random sheep attacking, you might as well enjoy it.”

Munster and Ireland were relieved to see Stander return to Ireland in one piece and he has been superb since the restart of rugby in August. 

The 30-year-old comes into Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Italy in Dublin in confident form, particularly around the breakdown, where he has been a menace since World Rugby asked referees to refocus on their interpretation of the laws.

cj-stander Stander is in excellent form coming into the Six Nations. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Stander has always been a jackal threat but he has now moved to another level, winning four turnover penalties at the breakdown against Leinster in Munster’s first game back alone.

One of the reasons World Rugby asked experts like Joe Schmidt to focus on the breakdown was how dangerous it had become, and Stander is happy to report that he has found the changes positive in a physical sense. 

“I’ll tell you one thing, it’s easier on the body – just get to the breakdown and try to get on the ball and you get rewarded. It’s easier on the body, especially when you have to do it week in, week out. I wish they brought it in earlier.”

Stander stresses that knowing the referee and oppositions’ habits around the breakdown remains as essential as ever but he is pleased that jackals like himself are being rewarded earlier.

“The ten-second wrestle is out and it makes it safer for the ball-carrier as well. You’re in and there is not a big tussle.

“As soon as you lift the ball, that’s it – you’ve won the competition but the other thing is you need to be on your feet as well, so it’s just a quick contest.

“In and out, if you can get the ball, yes. If not, the referee – I’ve seen it in a lot games I’ve watched – you’re not going to get the opportunity now. You’ve got to be quick and it’s not a long contest and fight to win the ball.”

cj-stander-celebrates-with-andrew-conway-after-winning-a-turn-over Stander is enjoying the refocused breakdown interpretations. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

World Rugby also hoped the refocus would ensure more frequent clean turnovers of possession and not just jackal penalties. The idea in this regard is to create more counter-attacking opportunities against disorganised defences. We saw plenty of them last weekend in the Champions Cup final and Bledisloe II, with Stander hopeful it’s a trend.

“Clean turnovers is something that disappeared a lot over the last few years,” says Stander.

“Just looking back at guys that I grew up with, there’s [former Springboks flanker] Heinrich Brüssow who came in, took the ball, and he was gone. I think if we can get to that stage then the game is going to flow.

“From my point of view, I think that’s what they want, the referees. So, getting a clean turnover is the main goal. Sometimes you get caught in there but to get a flow into the game is going to be great for the spectators and for us players as well because you want the ball and you want some space.”

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