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'If you're tough enough to take on a man's wife and can't do it in front of him then...there is a line' - CJ Stander

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CJ Stander of Ireland with wife Jean-Marie

CJ Stander of Ireland with wife Jean-Marie

SPORTSFILE

CJ Stander. Photo: Sportsfile

CJ Stander. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

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CJ Stander of Ireland with wife Jean-Marie

When CJ Stander was clinging leech-like to the possession that won his side the ball game, the smile across his cherub features spread like a colourful umbrella.

And yet he was still uncertain; would the ref whistle against him? Doubts always threaten to intrude.

Too many storm clouds have swirled around him and his team this past while.

The Munster contingent bore the brunt of the inquests; mercifully, much of the discussion was restricted to matters of a sporting hue.

But, as Jean-Marie, Stander's wife, told us on independent.ie after the World Cup, the line between observational critique and objectionable abuse is perilously thin.

And this is a problem that didn't suddenly surface after a World Cup where an orgy of self-righteous outrage gripped a certain cohort.

Last year, gardaí in Munster were prompted to begin an investigation into the abuse of the province's players and their families; it remains to be seen how that may pan out.

An undercurrent of perceived racism backbones only some of the opprobrium which has often been directed towards Stander, as well as other foreign players who have decided to switch their international allegiances to Ireland.

Often, some have tended to conflate an objection to the rule which allowed this to happen with some of the personal abuse which has been directed particularly towards project players like Stander, Jean Kleyn, Jared Payne and so many others.

Stander's wife railed against all media and also that curiously deranged section of society who cloak venal abuse with anonymity; whether she meant to lump both her targets together was as unclear as the message she was attempting to convey.

Regrettably, it is impossible to eliminate this wilful confusion, no more than it is impossible to prevent its sinister spread to online platforms or, heaven forfend, the streets upon which these players walk.

As an aside, Stander told reporters on Tuesday as he elaborated on the topic that he had recently overheard somebody calling him 'fat' while he was out with his wife.

Haters will hate, whether the offence is body weight, race, purported privilege, provincial allegiance, the type of ball your sport uses.

As Stander concedes, the fact that he is a project player may literally only be the half of it, given how so many are split on the issue.

But while it is much easier to identify and punish someone who might racially abuse Simon Zebo in an Irish ground, it is far more difficult to track down a moveable IP address.

"Life changes," Stander concedes of this harsh and bitter new reality.

"Social media got out there and everyone has an opinion. We probably need to deal with it sometimes differently and not let it affect you but sometimes it touches close to home and then it gets tough.

"I always try to keep those things away, you know, but it is tough. It is tough. It doesn't matter what you do.

"Suddenly people start attacking your family on social media. For me, that is tough because I believe that if you are tough enough to take on a man's wife and you can't do it in front of him then... Mmm, there is a line there that you step over.

"That might be my South African side coming through. But that raises a hair on my neck. I do a job that is out there and people need to judge me. That is what we do on a Saturday. We are out there to play, to perform at this level.

"People are going to judge you and you are going to have to handle that and that is fair. I can take it. But as soon as you start taking on a man's family..."

And, just because these may be the toughest couple in their public personas, nobody knows what happens after they take down their umbrella smiles.

"My wife was trying to hide it but when I got back (from Japan) I saw that it impacted (her) a little bit," says Stander, embellishing the record of what his wife has already alluded to in her interview.

"But she is a strong woman. I think she handled it well. She can stand up for herself. She didn't study law for nothing. She is a tough one. That is why I like her."

And so when he plays so well as he did last week, with so many questions and accusations swirling, sometimes all you can do is smile. But unlike those outside the lines, he cannot allow the highs and lows to consume him; their passion is his job.

"It means a lot to the team when people put their bodies on the line. That's perfect for us.

"My wife was there and my baby and I just wanted to go out and play. It stays level. I just want to be consistent and do my job."

Irish Independent