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Stander savouring first taste of England rivalry

The Munster back-rower revealed there was a different feeling in the camp this week.

Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

IRELAND BACK-ROWER CJ Stander admitted that this week has had a different feel with a Six Nations battle against age-old enemies England on the horizon.

This fixture has always been special, particularly from an Irish perspective.

But the South African native, who will likely claim his third Test cap on Saturday, explained that England games are treated differently in his homeland too.

“I am South African, not Irish, but it is the same thing for South Africans,” Stander said.

“We have a thing about England.

“It doesn’t matter what you play or what you do, you just want to play against them so it is good to slot in with the boys.

It is something for Irish people against English teams and it is good to get that feeling from the boys.

“We take it week by week but you can feel this week that the boys are ready for this match and that there is something different in this game.”

Ireland are winless after two outings; a home draw against Wales and a narrow loss in Paris 11 days ago. Of particular concern for Joe Schmidt’s side is their struggle to put points on the board, just 25 to date and only one try, despite enjoying plenty of territory and possession.

While some have bemoaned Ireland’s structured play and what is perceived as a lack of inventiveness, Stander insists that is not the case and says they are given a licence to mix it up on the field.

“We have our plays and stuff but Joe has always let us play what is in front of us whether that is carrying or offloading or give a kick,” Stander explained.

“You do what is open in front of you and if it works then happy days.”

The Munster man feels that Ireland have been unfortunate not to get a Six Nations win from the opening two rounds but conceded that they must be more clinical to make sure that run doesn’t continue.

“We know what we want to do. Sometimes we just don’t get it off on the pitch. We can see the opportunities, we just have to go out and grab them.”

“I would say (we have been) unlucky. Maybe the bounce of a ball. You don’t know what side it is going to bounce.

“It is small mistakes that we need to sharpen up on, in defence and attack. Just keeping the ball for another few phases and playing from there.

“We have a good game plan and the boys know what to do. We just have to go out and do it.”

CJ Stander Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The ease with which Stander has slotted into international rugby has been somewhat cast into the shadows by Ireland’s poor start to their latest Six Nations defence.

A man-of-the-match performance in his debut was followed by a workmanlike showing against the French.

But this weekend he will going up against one of the form players of the competition in Billy Vunipola.

The England number eight has been flourishing under the stewardship of new coach Eddie Jones and Stander knows that stopping the Saracens back-rower, and his prop forward sibling Mako, will be key if Ireland are to upset the odds and claim victory on Saturday.

“He is a great athlete, him and his brother, and there are another few boys like (Chris) Robshaw in the back row who can carry the ball.

“You have to stop that straight off with the first tackle because if he gets a few good carries in the first few minutes it is going to be a long day for you.”

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