Monday 16 September 2019

CJ Stander stakes his claim as a future Ireland captain

CJ Stander during an Ireland rugby press conference at Carton House in Maynooth, Kildare. Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander during an Ireland rugby press conference at Carton House in Maynooth, Kildare. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Whatever one's opinions of World Rugby's rum residency rules that allow CJ Stander to play for Ireland - some of us reserve the right to protest - his regard as a player has rarely, if ever, been comprehensively contested.

Nor too, his consistent courtesy; a moot point to some, perhaps, but through all his career in this country, he has maintained his steadied poise, the familiar handshake exchanged even with those who may, for their own reasons, disagree with the facility with which he has been allowed to transfer national allegiance.

His manner has not been to earn empathy; but respect. Such self-confidence and assurance was present in his earlier years when, as we now know, many suspected that he would one day captain his native country.

Instead, last Saturday, as Ireland's fitful Fijian challenge faltered heading into a nervy final quarter, the Munster number eight announced himself to the referee Paul Williams with such authority that even the New Zealander might have been prompted to shake his hand too.

"I'm CJ Stander and I'm the captain now." Meet Ireland's newest captain.

Two years previously, Anthony Foley had handed him the Munster captaincy for the first time in the absence of an injured Peter O'Mahony. His appreciation of that symbolic, transitory responsibility has hardened since.

"Your boss is only getting born," his dad once told him in his native tongue; a reminder to never assume anything.

Stander's impressive control last Saturday allowed him to alleviate the damage being wrought on the deck.

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This week, he will revert to the trenches as Rory Best re-assumes his role but considering the Irish team have already had a South African leading the country, Stander may also be considered by Joe Schmidt as a future candidate.

Certainly, he fulfils all the criteria and in impressively delivering the type of public messages that are demanded of his head coach this week, he is clearly established as a core member of the squad's leadership coterie.

Ireland move on to Argentina as their next quarry in their attempt to complete a November Guinness Series clean sweep and, while many supporters will see this latest sell-out clash as an opportunity for World Cup revenge, for Schmidt's men, it is all about repetition.

"Revenge is not really a motivation for the team, I think only the supporters will really think that way," he says.

"I think for the team, we haven't played them for the last two years and I think that we've moved on.

"We need to concentrate on them especially, but it's also pushing on from South Africa, where we had a good game, our plan worked well, we controlled the game.

"Probably from a supporters' view, they want to get revenge but the players group just look at the next game.

"You can't really look back to that because we've had a lot of changes, and we know we can do a better job."

For Ireland, the best job is always the next one; while England's Eddie Jones regularly name-checks the World Cup as a primary goal, here, halfway through the four-year cycle, the focus remains unswervingly narrow.

"At this moment it's about this game and for me it's taking it competition by competition. You can't get ahead of yourself, you have to concentrate on what you have at the moment because you never know when you'll get the next opportunity to play.

"We probably have different goals and strategies going into our media conferences, you know? Look, we have done this a good few years now and everyone knows that in this camp we go from week to week and from competition to competition.

"There is a lot of background work that goes into it but that is for the back-room staff. The main thing is this week and after that then Six Nations.

"If a World Cup is one of your long-term goals then these games now and the Six Nations are your short-term goals towards that.

"I have learned in the last few months that you need to take your opportunities in this jersey, enjoy it, work hard for it and put a marker down.

"If you get the result it makes it more enjoyable and if you don't get it, so long as you work hard, and work for the team, the aches and pains will all be worthwhile.

"Because one day you can walk into camp thinking you are going to be in the team and suddenly you are at the back of the bus and waiting for an opportunity again."

Spoken like a true leader. Schmidt would approve.

Irish Independent

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