Tuesday 22 October 2019

Stander recalls derby days of yore when a boy became a man

CJ Stander and the Munster back-row will be aiming to call the shots against Leinster
CJ Stander and the Munster back-row will be aiming to call the shots against Leinster
David Kelly

David Kelly

The last time we met Jannie Stander, his son was nonchalantly regaling us with a tale of how he had run over the six-year-old while driving his tractor.

Now the tale of him tangling with a touch judge and ruling the roost in the stands.

As the great scribe once wrote, now read on... (although readers of a sensitive disposition are encouraged to take caution).

It's derby day tomorrow in the RDS and, for those weary of a seemingly interminable season, there still exists a passionately committed constituency for whom the afternoon remains of core relevance.

And there may be blood. Boiling. Stirring. Spilling.

Derbies tend to pour the claret, at times. No small beer here.

We're chatting to CJ Stander, shooting the breeze about the feisty festive fare in Thomond that so unnerved Leinster and unsettled Jonathan Sexton. When cool heads become heated.

Spice

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"You don't want to push the boat too far but yeah, it's a semi-final, there is a lot on the line. There is always a lot of spice in these games, it happens and that's what makes it interesting.

"I enjoyed the last one. A few times I was far away and I enjoyed looking at it and a few times I was nearby and got stuck in.

"They're the games you enjoy, the physical ones. It's good to get out and test the jersey collars and see how far they stretch!

"We're all mates off the field in the Irish pitch but when we step on to the field it is Munster v Leinster."

And then he wistfully recalls schooldays and another derby. Oakdale against Outeniqua. Still a boy, not yet a man.

"A few of the dads roughed each other in the stand but I don't want to talk about that too much because my dad was in charge of that!

"I remember one game, a winger stepped so far out and he was almost in the stand but the touch judge didn't give it, he was 10 metres out!

"My dad walked on and almost ripped the touch judge off by the collar to take him back to the farm. My mum stopped him before he could."

And then the Currie Cup with the Bulls. When the boy became a man.

"I wouldn't say I was a man before. But in that game there were men going at each other. And this game is even bigger than that. I was from the coast but now it's back to the Bulls."

His current coach, Johann van Graan, smiles at the memory.

"I remember exactly what he was talking about, I respected those players so much. CJ was a new kid on the block.

"There was a game when the Bulls played the Western Province at Loftus. On those days the assistant judges could still run the touchline.

"Two of the loosies from the Stormers that day were Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen, they just welcomed CJ to Loftus and Currie Cup rugby. He had blood all over his face."

"That was the first day I learned about respect," says Stander.

"They broke my nose and then pulled me off the ground. They shook my hands while they ran off.

"You have to break your nose sometimes to test yourself."

Battles and then beers; the truism still holds.

"That's the beauty of sport," says Van Graan. It is rivalries and a healthy respect afterwards. And you laugh about it now.

"I talked with Felipe Contepomi and we all just want to present the best of ourselves in Irish rugby. This will be a massive derby and we'll shake hands."

Contepomi grew up amidst a fierce soccer rivalry; his was Independiente v Racing; there was also Boca Juniors and River Plate.

"Ours has got so much history and it has families divided, not just places," he says.

"It's not like towns with Bristol or Toulon playing Bath or Toulouse.

"In Ireland, some Munster people have had to leave to go to Dublin, their kids are now raised in Dublin and the other way around. So families are divided, it makes it very special.

"It reminds of me of River v Boca. You really want to beat each other even though there are in your own family.

"So here you have situations like the Cronins or the Fogartys playing each other. It's not just about the town or place you grow up but the family you belong to."

Let the games begin and the passions, if not the blood, flow.

Irish Independent

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