A memorable day for Irish rugby - in spite of that red card
Published 13/06/2016 | 02:30
The wife of Irish flanker CJ Stander has spoken of her immense pride as his Irish colleagues saw off the Springboks - despite his cruel red card in his first international match on South African soil.
Jean-Marie Stander had travelled from Limerick to Cape Town, where she met up with her parents and members of his farming family from Bloemfontein to enjoy the Test match.
They were prepared for "a bit of friendly abuse" from Springboks supporters who do not like to see a South African-born rugby star choose to represent another nation.
But nothing could prepare the family for the shock of seeing the Munster flanker, in his first international game in the land of his birth, dismissed a mere 23 minutes into the match in Cape Town.
The red card was deemed harsh by many pundits and fans alike. Stander's collision with his one-time South African U-20s team-mate Pat Lambie was undoubtedly sickening and appeared to knock him out cold.
But there appeared to be no malice as he leapt through the air, his hands extended upwards in a bid to charge down the ball and he could not change his trajectory before colliding with Lambie.
Stander's forlorn glance backwards as he headed down the player's tunnel spoke volumes about the pain of leaving his 14 team-mates on the pitch.
But the Irish were not stunned. They were stunning. For the next hour, they harried and harassed the Springboks, pulling off a historic first win in South Africa and perhaps the finest backs-to-the-wall performance ever.
It was some comfort to Jean-Marie, who had been looking forward to the South African trip for months.
"All I can say is that I am overjoyed by Ireland's win with 14 men - and at one point 13 men," she said.
Her husband now awaits the outcome of a disciplinary hearing into the incident.
She added: "It was a massive and memorable day for Ireland and I am so happy I was there to witness it."
And it was arguably the greatest-ever day in the history of Irish rugby - as the U-20s side also became the first men's team representing this country to topple the mighty All Blacks.
Jean-Marie's sentiments were shared by the hardcore group of fans who had followed the Irish on tour to South Africa.
Cork native Róisín Kelly-Laubscher, who has lived in Cape Town for 10 years with South African husband Henry and son Gerard (18 months), was there.
She said: "We were disappointed when CJ Stander was sent off but it made the gloating all the better when we won because we did it with 14 players.
"We Irish fans were outnumbered. There is an Irish South African Association which had block-booked 150 tickets but that didn't mean they were all Irish. Even when they're down in numbers, it seems the Irish can always rely on the famous 16th man - their supporters.
"They could hear other Irish fans belting out 'The Fields of Athenry' from across the stadium."