Stander thinking outside the Boks
Munster man desperate to play with compatriot Strauss in Ireland jersey, writes Conor George
MUNSTER may yet have cause to thank Leinster if new Springbok CJ Stander turns out to be a success.
The back-row forward has been signed as a 'project player' with a view to him going on to represent Ireland through the three-year residency rule. If that transpires, then Leinster's own adopted Springbok Richardt Strauss will have played a significant part.
Stander revealed this week that he sought advice from compatriot Strauss before he made the decision to come to Ireland.
"It's better for me not to be the first guy to do it. When I was making my decision (to move to Ireland), I sat down with my parents and I also spoke to Richardt. He was nearing the date of his qualification and I sought his opinion," said Stander.
Strauss now has two Ireland caps on his mantle after playing against his native South Africa and Argentina this month and created headlines by belting out the Irish national anthem before those games.
He has also been a huge success at Leinster, with whom he has amassed 70 caps, 54 as a starter, and won two Heineken Cups.
If Stander is half as influential with Munster then he will prove to be a very positive, and popular, acquisition.
Already the back-row forward is settling into life in Ireland and also revealed that his fiancee, Jean Marie Neethling, will be training out of University of Limerick's 50m swimming pool as she builds towards earning a place in the South African swim team for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Neethling is a multiple South African record holder, and her older brother Ryk won an Olympic gold medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
He is also the former joint holder of the 4x100m freestyle relay world record, holds several South African records and is the first South African to have competed at four successive Olympic Games.
Jean Marie was just 14 years of age when she won silver and bronze medals at the South Africa Senior National Championships and in 2006 she was the youngest member of the South African Commonwealth team to participate in Melbourne.
She has been unlucky with injuries and illness in recent years – she missed out on the Beijing Games after being struck down with the measles – and in 2009 was diagnosed with glandular fever, which disrupted her career.
Stander revealed she has made competing at the Rio Games a priority, which is why the couple have underlined their commitment to the cause by basing themselves in Limerick.
"We are getting married in June and Jean Marie is aiming for Rio. She is a very good swimmer and I think she will go to Rio," he predicted.
Stander's decision to come to Ireland is all about a fresh start for him and gaining international recognition.
The 22-year-old has previously captained South Africa at Schools and U-20 levels and made his Super 15 debut for the Bulls in their opening game of last season – he played in all their subsequent games – but after four years of provincial rugby, he was no closer to a full Springboks call-up. "What qualified me as a Springbok and what qualifies me as an Irish player? I played four years provincial rugby there (South Africa) without a call-up. Three years here and I will get my Irish colours hopefully."
If Stander does go on to earn an Irish cap it could, of course, come at a cost to an Irish-born player – neither Sean Cronin, Mike Sherry nor Damien Varley will be delighted to be now behind Strauss in the pecking order of Irish international hookers – and it is something Stander is mindful of.
"I think it's great that another country can recognise potential and bring a player like me in. I recognise that it (the residency rule) would be hard for local players, but it is a goal of mine to play international rugby."
Stander almost had a dream start to his Munster career when he was just held up short from scoring what would have been a match-winning try against Llanelli Scarlets last weekend, although on reflection he does agree with the decision not to award it.
"At the time I believed I had grounded the ball. But having seen it on the video, the right decision was made. It would have been a great way to start my Munster career, but I will have more positives hopefully. When I decided to come here I said to myself I wanted to come to a team, to a club that's the best in the world and Munster are in the top three in the world.
"So far the people have been great and friendly and I am delighted with the move."
Stander will get another chance to shine this weekend when he lines out in the Munster back-row to face Glasgow Warriors in Thomond Park tomorrow night.
Munster – F Jones; D Howlett (Capt), K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo; R O'Gara, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D O'Callaghan, D Ryan; CJ Stander, T O'Donnell, J Coughlan. Reps: D Varley, W du Preez, S Archer, B Holland, P Butler, P Stringer, I Keatley, C Laulala.