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Farmer's son knows 'you reap what you sow in life'

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CJ Stander is lifted in the line-out during training

CJ Stander is lifted in the line-out during training

SPORTSFILE

CJ Stander is lifted in the line-out during training

Touching 18 stone, and standing well over 6ft, it's hard to imagine that CJ Stander was once the small boy in his class. Up until under 14 or 15, though,Stander had never played in the pack.

He says he was a fly half "that couldn't kick and couldn't pass", but once his growth spurt kicked in he was soon asked to join in with the big boys.

It might have taken a few years for Stander (24) to find his groove, but once he got there, the progression was almost unstoppable.

By his mid-teens he was the school's top player, he went on to represent South Africa at underage and captained the Baby Boks at the 2010 Junior World Cup.

Two years later he briefly trained with the Springboks while impressing for the Pretoria-based Bulls before he decided to throw his lot in with Munster. When you wait so long to stand out, why wait in line to get to the top?

"I started playing rugby when I was seven years old, it was ten players per side on half the pitch. I was one of the smaller boys, but when I hit 13 or 14 I grew a lot very quickly," he recalls.

"Up to the age of ten or 11 I always played as a No 10. It was a small school though, they had to pick me. By the time I was 15 or 16, I was bigger than everyone.

"At the start of high school I was on the fringes of the team as a No 10 and a No 12, until one coach said to me that I had the body for the pack. He told me that I don't really pass and you can't really kick so what about loose-forward?

"It was then that I made the move to No 8 and have never looked back."

Stander's rural upbringing near the South African town of George was tough yet idyllic. The family farm provided the perfect introduction to physical labour, but the young CJ thrived in the wide open spaces.

There was a heavy focus on doing your part on the farm, but even then Stander worked his rugby training into the chores. Cauliflowers became rugby balls as he worked on his basic skills.

"We have cattle for diary, pigs, poultry and vegetables on the farm at home. It's quite extensive but it's a lot of work," he explains.

"As a youngster, my training day consisted of passing crops on to the truck, it was all about creating a rugby situation. It was nice.

Working

"My dad believes in physical work on the farm, so I was in the fields working my back off. He always told me to never go to the gym, 'Gym is for people in the city' he said."

The fallout from the losses to Clermont at Thomond Park and most recently that defeat at Saracens will be felt for some time. The Allianz Park game was Stander's 50th in the Munster shirt, so suffering ankle damage in the first half was doubly hard to take.

Thankfully, the initial three-months high ankle sprain prognosis was downgraded to six weeks and already he is seeing small improvements as he starts his rehab.

"The ankle was quite sore after the game. After two or three days the pain went away and I finally found out if it was good news or bad news. I was told it's not as bad as thought, so it has moved down to four to six weeks, with no operation needed," he says.

"When it happened the doctor thought it was a high ankle sprain, so I went to Santry and saw the specialist on the Tuesday, but he reassured me surgery wasn't necessary.

"At the time I thought I was fine and I strapped it up but after ten minutes I couldn't continue. Adrenaline keeps you going as well as pride, but when they took off my boot and cut my sock off, the pain was incredible. It was so sore I was on the edge of crying.

"But I am back in the pool already doing some light walking. I swam 12 laps too but I almost died! I need to work on my swimming."

Being away from the squad in the build-up to the Sale Sharks game meant it took Stander a little longer to shake off the malaise of Munster's Champions Cup exit.

The injury didn't help things either, but despite making an conscious effort to steer clear of the papers, avoiding some caustic comments has been impossible.

"You just stay away from everything. Social media can be quite on top of you, your phone is there and you want to look, but people can be quite harsh," he explains.

"Not really towards me because I got injured, but there was a few bad comments about the team, it's a bit hurtful.

"You always want to try your best and you always want to give your best for sure, but when stuff doesn't go right people want to take you down. It is quite difficult to walk down the street, most people are positive but some are very negative and they tell you what they think.

"It is quite hurtful, but I can let it slip away now, I've been in the game for a few years. It's still tough this week, but I'm sure it will pass.

"For now it's all about my recovery from the injury. Cardiff is the first game after the break and I don't think I'll be back for that, but we have Glasgow to come in Cork soon after so maybe that would be a good target.

"I never enjoy missing game, especially this time of the year with so many of the boys away with the international team, but hopefully I can get back and do my bit for the team as soon as possible."

Irish Independent