Thursday 22 February 2018

CJ Stander moves beyond questions over his size

CJ Stander, right, insists he has nothing to prove to coaches in South Africa who said he was too small
CJ Stander, right, insists he has nothing to prove to coaches in South Africa who said he was too small

Ireland flanker CJ Stander insists he has nothing to prove to the coaches who told him he would never make a Test back-row forward.

Stander recently revealed coaches in his native South Africa told him he was too small to play back-row for the Springboks, urging him to switch to hooker.

The 25-year-old took that unsubtle hint as the end of his Springbok dream and has since fought for a Test career with Ireland, joining Munster and qualifying through residency.

The combative forward has earned his international stripes in Ireland's challenging Six Nations campaign, and no longer uses those South African nay-sayers as motivation.

"Well in the beginning I would say I wanted to prove a point to the people who had said that to me, but for now I've just changed my direction," said Stander.

"Because if you play just to prove someone else wrong, then you're going to have to look at yourself if you prove that.

"So for now I'm just trying to play my own game, bring an energy and physicality to the team that I can bring.

"And if there's a question about my size then I'll step up and show someone my size and power by running hard and straight at them."

Stander captained South Africa's Under-20s with distinction, even breaking through in the back row for Super Rugby powerhouses the Bulls.

The powerfully-built flanker is hardly dwarfed by his back-row colleagues across the club or Test arena, but the Springboks have always favoured the biggest and beefiest around.

Once Stander feared being trapped under a club-level glass ceiling in his home country, he jumped at the chance for a fresh start with Munster.

Three years on and Stander will end his first Six Nations having started every match for Joe Schmidt's side, holding his place again for the closing clash with Scotland in Dublin on Saturday.

When Stander has the chance to review his own Six Nations contribution, he will set himself the target of being able to function on instinct to truly thrive in the Test arena.

"I'll probably have a bit of time off in the next couple of weeks and I'll be able to sit back and reflect on what's happened," said Stander.

"It's been an unbelievable journey. Everyone has made it easier for me to step in.

"I thought maybe I'd get into the group then try to get into the team, but that was massive to be thrown in straight away.

"That's the way I like it though, I like to be thrown into the deep end then just swim out of the muck.

"So I'm glad for that and glad Joe gave me the opportunity, it's been unbelievable.

"I've learned your actions need to be instinct rather than a decision. The pace is so quick, the intensity is so high, that you have to make the right decision or you will be shown up.

"If you make the wrong decision you'll be in the wrong position, you'll miss a tackle or you'll drop a ball. You can't afford that split-second, it has to be instinct.

"At Pro12 and Champions Cup there's a bit of time to think what's going on, but at Test level you need to do your thing and it has to be the right decision or you could end up looking like a fool almost."

Press Association

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