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'We do miss Ireland a lot' - CJ Stander well settled into life after rugby

Having made a shock decision to retire last year, Stander has no regrets.

Stander with his daughter and wife after an Ireland match in 2020.
Stander with his daughter and wife after an Ireland match in 2020.

CJ STANDER HASN’T hung around when it comes to moving on from rugby.

When he made the shock announcement that he had decided to retire from Ireland and Munster duty at the end of last season at the age of 31, many of us wondered how soon it would be before a club tried to convince him to give pro rugby one last shot. They did, but Stander said no.

He now finds himself flat out with a completely different job in construction. Some of his working days start at 7am and finish at 6pm. Instead of analysis, weights, physio, and skills sessions, he’s focused on meetings, site visits, and emails about the latest project. 

All of a sudden, weekends are his to spend with his family and their friends. No more games dominating all of their lives.

Stander, his wife Jean-Marié, and daughter Everli moved back to South Africa and are living in the town of Paarl, very close to Cape Town. The lovely weather there is one big change from life in Limerick, which was home for nine years.

“It’s great, it’s good to be back home and see family,” said Stander today.

“We do miss Ireland a lot. The big thing for me is to keep my wife from crying every second week because she wants to move back!

“But it’s been great, the transition was quite easy. I always said that I had a good relationship with my family and that structure has been awesome to fall back on.”

cj-stander-calls-home-to-his-wife-in-south-africa-after-his-last-home-game-for-the-province Stander in Thomond Park after his last game for Munster just under a year ago. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It’s no surprise that he had offers to keep playing on beyond last summer. Indeed, the IRFU and Munster did their best to convince Stander that he shouldn’t be hanging up his boots with so much good rugby left in him. He had a new central contract offer on the table.

Stander, who won 51 caps for Ireland, cited his family as the main reason for retiring and even when other clubs came calling, he stuck by his decision to put them first. There are no regrets now.

“Yeah, there was a few teams, a few guys calling me afterwards, and a few clubs around where I live now who asked the question,” said Stander.

“I just feel I’ve done my part and when I hung up my boots, that was it for me. I’m really proud of that decision.”

He admits to missing rugby but his only involvement right now is playing touch with some friends close to his new home.

To be fair, his body has earned a breather after so many games in which he carried and tackled relentlessly with little regard for his own welfare.

“I don’t like the contact anymore,” he said with a smile.

“When I sit at home and watch the game and have a few pints, I just think, ‘Oof.’

“Like Munster against Toulouse, I was thinking I couldn’t imagine having the feeling of just being broken to bits on Sunday and Monday.”

He is still connected to Munster. You can’t just sever a tie like that overnight. Stander watches all their games, stays in touch with some of the players, and more regularly speaks with the province’s coaches.

cj-stander-and-johann-van-graan-celebrate-after-the-game Stander is still regularly in touch with Johann van Graan. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I have a very good relationship with Johann van Graan and I speak to him quite a bit. Now and then, Graham Rowntree, and I spoke to JP Ferreira this morning.

“For me, I’m proud. To get to a point where you’re playing in a quarter-final and you should have won is unbelievable. To be second in the URC ahead of this weekend, I’m proud of the boys.

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“I say ‘we’ but I need to say ‘them.’

“When I was still there, we had a goal and a plan. You can see things are coming together. For me, they’re almost at that place, they need one or two more years together.

“With Graham taking over, he is just going to keep on with that attitude. He’s obviously going to bring some [new] things in, but the biggest thing is that they’ve gone back to that Munster core that we all know and that’s exciting to see.”

Stander will be watching on again this weekend as Munster face a crucial last regular-season URC game away to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.

Their aim is to finish second in the league, ensuring a home quarter-final and a possible home semi-final. With Leinster resting key players ahead of the Champions Cup final in two weekends’ time, it feels like a big opportunity for Munster.

“This weekend is probably going to be a big test but what I’ve seen against Toulouse… that was exceptional, probably the best game I’ve ever seen Munster play,” said Stander.

“If I sit and think back about meetings we had about the game or where Munster needed to go, that was exactly the blueprint.

“It was out of their reach at the end but I think this weekend is their biggest test. If they can get this win at the weekend, I think they will have moved on a few steps more from April and I know that if they win this weekend, there’s a trophy on the cards.”

- This article was updated at 10.58am on 19 May to add ‘tried to’ into the second paragraph.

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