Monday 18 December 2017

CJ Stander relying on gut instinct in quest to break his Ireland duck

CJ Stander in his man of the match display on his Ireland debut against Wales (SPORTSFILE)
CJ Stander in his man of the match display on his Ireland debut against Wales (SPORTSFILE)
David Kelly

David Kelly

The things one must do for one's country.

Particularly a country that is not necessarily yours by birthright.

Then again, you don't necessarily have to be hewn from Irish soil to appreciate that when King Billy is about to trample upon your brethren, there is nothing else to do except halt his march by any means necessary.

Especially when he is an Englishman (erm, via Tonga.)

Except, when CJ Stander attempted to stem the irrepressible progress of King Billy Vunipola, his attempts to do so conjured an image somewhere between one of those old It's A Knockout farces and an episode of Gladiators.

For someone renowned for skittling Pro12 defenders with rapacious relish, it was a reminder for the South Africa-born Munster back-rower of the gulf between domestic and international fare.

"It was not the easiest position to get on to him, I would have thought," he says, bemusing himself with the recall as he grappled with Vunipola with as little success as he once did with the livestock back on the family farm in George.

"I could have gone lower but then you are going to run into his boots. So I got on to his back. I don't know what I am trying, if it is a sumo chop or a karate, or whatever, it was just an attempt to get him to the floor by whatever means I could."

To sum it up, Stander borrows a phrase which is probably more west Limerick than Western Cape.

"I got rided there for a while. . ."

It felt like that for many of the Irish supporters. And so, grounded, it was all he could do to lie back and think of England.

And marvel at how they would continue, for much of that astonishing first half at least, to pummel Stander and his Irish team-mates in contact; at one stage, No 8 Vunipola had made twice as many yards as the entire Irish pack between them.

Often, it comes down to instinct; Stander often seems to have so much time on his hands in a red shirt; international rugby is a completely different ball game.

"The intensity is a step-up," he says. "Everything is quicker, all the players are quicker and the game is quicker. You cannot think about stuff, it has to be instinct.

"Everything. If you think about stuff, you are in trouble. And you are going to be left out, leave a gap or lose a carry and then concede a try. That is the big thing that I have learned up here.

"You have to train all week, Joe (Schmidt) tells us all the time, so that everything is instinct. So when you do something in a match, you have to do it instinctively.

"It is then in your DNA. If I can take that back to Munster, it will be a great asset to my game."

Even if he is possessed of no Irish DNA, his passport will arrive next year and the game has infected his every pore.

This summer will be a test of his resolve when he returns to the land of his birth. For now, he just wants to fulfil the most of his talent for his adopted land.

"I've tried to take in all of the culture and country, try to learn what Ireland is about," he says.

"I enjoy playing for Ireland. The last six weeks have been the best time of my life."

A win, though, would be nice. "I'm a guy who wants to win everything!"

Irish Independent

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