Sunday 11 December 2016

CJ Stander on English rivalry: I’m not Irish, but it is the same thing for South Africans

Published 24/02/2016 | 16:35

CJ Stander is relishing Saturday’s Six Nations showdown with England and says he won’t be found wanting for motivation against the Auld Enemy.

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The Munster backrower has made a blistering start to his international career, with the flanker putting in a man-of-the-match performance against Wales on his debut and more than holding his own in the one-point defeat to France.

Many observers have questioned the attacking threat posed by Joe Schmidt’ side, but defensively yet again they remain resolute and the South African has seamlessly slipped into the defensive strategies employed at Test level.

In the absence of Cian Healy, Iain Henderson and Sean O’Brien, Stander has regularly shown his ability to break the gainline with strong, abrasive carrying and is the leading ball carrier in the competition. At Twickenham the 25-year-old will face the man second on that list, Billy Vunipola, who has been in a similar vein of form in his two outings to date.

Desperately seeking a first win in the tournament, the pressure is on the reigning champions to claim an away victory against Grand Slam chasing England, and their coach Eddie Jones has been eager to ratchet up the tension between the two rivals.

Jones was at pains to point out that Ireland’s kicking game was not to his taste- “It is not the way I think you should play rugby” – and also raised the point that many sides have a historical “hatred” of English rugby.

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Jamie Heaslip has spoken this week of the rivalry between the two countries and the competitive spirit that is as intense as ever.

“If you are an Irishman and you're playing tiddlywinks against an Englishman, or chess or Scrabble, you want to beat him,” he admitted.

Speaking in Ireland camp today, Stander insisted that the English rivalry means every bit as much to him as it does to his international team-mates.

“I aware of it. I am South African, not Irish, but it is the same thing for South Africans,” he 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.

“The boys are ready for this match and that there is something different in this game.”

The dynamic ball carrier is ready for a fierce battle against an England side buoyed by victories over Italy and Scotland and eager to make up for their World Cup disappointment.

“They have a new coach and a great group of athletes and you know what they are going to do on the pitch. They will have that feeling because they fell out of the pool stages and at Twickenham they will probably want to show the English supporters what they can do.

"That’s the thing you need to look out for. You know what they are going to bring to the match but I think that gives them another 10pc drive to play the game.”

The versatile forward also took time to address claims that Ireland’s attacking game-plan has been stifled because of Schmidt’s conservative nature.

Since the November internationals in 2014, Ireland have only scored more than two tries on one occasion and in Paris the backline was curtailed by Les Bleus.

Stander refutes the suggestion that the players are pre-programmed and unable to work off-script.

“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 to give a kick.

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

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