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‘Maybe CJ will get an itch to come back but it’s highly unlikely’ – Earls

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Ireland's Keith Earls competes for a high ball against Scotland's Chris Harris (left) and Stuart Hogg in the lead up to Robbie Henshaw's try in last Sunday's Guinness Six Nations tie at Murrayfield. Photo: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile

Ireland's Keith Earls competes for a high ball against Scotland's Chris Harris (left) and Stuart Hogg in the lead up to Robbie Henshaw's try in last Sunday's Guinness Six Nations tie at Murrayfield. Photo: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile

Ireland's Keith Earls competes for a high ball against Scotland's Chris Harris (left) and Stuart Hogg in the lead up to Robbie Henshaw's try in last Sunday's Guinness Six Nations tie at Murrayfield. Photo: Paul Devlin/Sportsfile

Keith Earls has walked in CJ Stander’s shoes.

Some years ago, he too had to deal with the dilemma which pitches professional ambition against the personal concerns of a family’s future.

Ultimately, he decided to stay but the circumstances were not necessarily a mirror image; his entire family are based here and his employers had more money to play with at the time, too.

Now all has changed, in sport as in life, as Earls know.

“Everything is up in the air and it’s his personal life over rugby which anyone can understand but who knows, if he’s five months down the road retired, maybe he’ll get an itch for it again and come back to us, but it’s highly unlikely.

“He’s been an unbelievable professional, he’s been definitely the best overseas player we’ve ever signed at Munster, he’s right up there with the best overseas player that has come into the country alone.

“It’s probably the toughest decision he’ll ever have to make in his life, but you can completely understand it as well in terms of his family.

“He’s been over here 10 years plus now and he has given a lot, and a lot of people over the lockdown have sat down and thought about a lot of things and I think when he got home for a while, his daughter growing up around the grandparents was massive for him.

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“So look, he’s 31 next month so I think the fact he’s so young, he’s not injured, the professional he is, a lot of people are going to think he’s crazy but knowing CJ, his family comes first.

“There isn’t anyone in the country who has a bad word to say about CJ or he’s had a bad moment with any supporter or anything like that.

“He’s so open minded, so caring to the people. The Munster and Ireland jerseys mean a lot to him and he knows how much they mean to Irish people as well.

“He’s come over as a South African but he’s definitely leaving as a Munster and Irishman.”

Earls recalls Stander’s difficult integration, learning not only the tongue of his new home but the language of a Munster uncertainly evolving under Rob Penney in 2012.

“The two of us couldn’t communicate between his Afrikaans and my Moyross accent, so we had someone in between us chatting!” smiles Earls.

“He found it tough to get in at the start. He came over quite raw. We had Rob Penney coaching at the time, who was trying to play a certain kind of game and CJ, it took him a bit longer to adapt.

“I remember we played Glasgow in Thomond Park and he made an outrageous length of the field break to score a try, and I was like ‘Jesus, this fella is the business.’

“I think definitely when Axel (Foley) took over and Pete (O’Mahony) was injured for a good couple of months, CJ took over the captaincy.

“And with his qualities there you wondered could this fella go all the way. Now he has 50 caps for Ireland, he’s rarely injured and is an unbelievable professional.”


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