Monday 22 January 2018

How Joe Schmidt's analogy has CJ Stander flying high

After a long summer with the Lions, a timely return to form has Munster talisman primed for another big season ahead

CJ Stander tries to get past South Africa’s Tendai Mtawarira during last Saturday’s match. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
CJ Stander tries to get past South Africa’s Tendai Mtawarira during last Saturday’s match. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

CJ Stander doesn't need any extra motivation when he lines out against the country of his birth who reckoned he was too small for international rugby, but when Joe Schmidt calls him aside and encourages him to step up his game, a response was inevitable.

Schmidt did something similar with Rob Kearney prior to the historic win over the All Blacks last year and evidently whatever he says has the desired effect.

By no means did Stander come into the November series in poor form but such are the lofty standards that he has set for himself in recent years, if he drops below an 8/10, he knows that more will be demanded of him.

Praise

Stander was excellent in Saturday's record win over the Springboks and afterwards Schmidt singled out the 27-year-old for particular praise.

"I think it was a bit of a return to form for CJ, he's been a bit quiet so far this season but he really ramped up his energy today," the Kiwi said.

The all-action Stander won't be used to hearing his form be described as "quiet" but he agreed with Schmidt's assessment.

"At the beginning of the year I felt I was trying maybe to concentrate on stuff that wasn't in my control," Stander explains.

"Joe spoke to me before the game and gave a good analogy; he said I was like an aeroplane on the runway, I'm there but I'm not going up.

"So look, I won't say I'm flying yet, I'm probably on the take-off so it was great for me to get the nod from him and to get the responsibility to go out on Saturday and perform.

"It's a big boost. Sometimes as a player, you go through ups and downs; if a coach believes in you and he gives a bit of that motivation, it helps a lot."

Most people will point to Stander's exploits on the Lions tour for his somewhat sluggish start to the season but he doesn't buy into that theory.

Stander played six times in the drawn series in New Zealand and featured off the bench in the decisive third Test but he had enough time to recover, and wasn't looking for excuses.

"I had a few niggles earlier in the season that I didn't really expect but I won't say it's from that.

"I got a good break back on the farm so it was just training-wise and the games we played, all physical games where everyone was gunning for you. I wouldn't put it down to the Lions."

Apart the obvious in hearing what the official is saying, the ref-mic always offers a fascinating insight into who the key leaders on the pitch are.

Stander is always one of the most vocal players but on Saturday, he appeared to be even more so. Rob Kearney spoke about it on Monday, the little victories were celebrated as if they were match-defining.

For Stander, any victory over his country of birth is worth relishing, especially given the stick that he took when he was back home on the summer tour last year when he was sent off in the second Test.

"You give a bit of insight to the boys but just to run out on the pitch again and play in an Irish jersey and represent the boys again and get a win was great," he maintains.

"I feel I didn't get the opportunity in South Africa a year ago because we didn't win there and the one time we won I went off the pitch early.

Feelings

"There were none of those feelings so it's been a good week, a good Saturday evening, I really enjoyed it.

"I just felt I had a slow start to the season so I just wanted to get back in and perform well in the jersey again, so that was my motivation, nothing else outside of that.

"I know most of them (Springboks) so I got a bit of extra treatment. I understand the language so it makes easier to understand if it's directed towards me. It was a good game, no niggles really.

"I think both teams got down to their jobs and if you play for this team, play for Joe, you let that white noise slide and just concentrate on your job."

The body language of the South African players last weekend told you everything you needed to know about how much of a rabble they currently are.

The sooner Rassie Erasmus gets his hands on those massively under-performing players the better for their sake, and Stander admits that he did notice their heads dropping.

"Yeah, some phases here and there. I think for them when they play at home the crowd gets behind them and they get an extra boost but here, not really. We were just firing in the right positions and the right places.

"It's tough when you don't get your plan A ready and set to go. Then if you lose a few lineouts or a few scrums it's difficult to get into your game.

"It's happened to us also a few times. I think they're very close to clicking, they'll just go up from here.

"I think it was a collective mentality. We went out there and made sure that, firstly, we knew our job, and secondly that we went out there and played for each other and made sure we were mentally switched on for the full 80 minutes to not give them any ins at all.

"Our defence was one of the best I've seen. We gave a few penalties away that we shouldn't have but we said we were going to play the game the way we liked to, the way we want to perform and not give them any ins where they feel they could control the game."

Johann van Graan is in his final days with the Boks squad and he will link up with Munster next week before their clash against Zebre.

Stander caught up with the incoming Reds coach in Dublin and he fully believes that Van Graan is the right man for the job.

"It's exciting and it's also a challenge," Stander adds.

"If a new guy comes in halfway through the season, it's a big job on his shoulders. But I think from a players' perspective, we're a good group of leaders. I think we have taken charge for the last number of seasons.

"He's going to come in and we're almost going to give him the way we want to play and he's going to give us a few different ways he wants to play.

"I think he's the best fit out there. Coach-wise and personality he's between Rassie and Jacques (Nienaber), so that's perfect.

"I worked with him before and you can hear from the other Springboks and some of the South African Blue Bulls team that he's one of the best coaches they have worked with.

"I think where we are, at the time of the year, in the middle of the season, this is the best guy who can step in and take over the job. I'm looking forward to going back."

Irish Independent

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