Sunday 21 October 2018

CJ Stander: 'I wanted to flip the table and dance on it but I knew we had another game'

CJ Stander of Ireland celebrates with his wife Jean Marié. Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander of Ireland celebrates with his wife Jean Marié. Photo: Sportsfile
CJ Stander celebrated his first trophy as a senior player last Saturday but has his sights set on the Grand Slam. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Dressed in his suit, sitting alongside his wife Jean-Marie and tucking into a main course of beef wellington, CJ Stander celebrated his first trophy as a senior rugby player last Saturday night.

It isn't how he'd pictured it and he knows there's more to come, but it was important for the 27-year-old to mark the moment before switching focus to the next challenge.

Inevitably, a loss in Twickenham this Saturday would detract from Ireland's moment. It may feel like it's Grand Slam or nothing, but regardless of what happens between 2.45 and 4.30, they'll be collecting a trophy at the end of it all.

A hollow victory remains a victory and Stander does not want to lose sight of that amidst the fever surrounding the St Patrick's Day finale.

He and his team-mates have worked too hard not to at least savour the success they achieved last weekend.

"We had dinner. We as players and partners were sitting on one side, and everyone else was celebrating," he recalled of the post-match banquet at the Aviva Stadium last weekend.

Celebrate

"We didn't really celebrate because we knew we had another job at hand.

"To win a championship with a game in hand is a great achievement and I will never take that away. I've never had it; it's my first senior win ever in my life.

"I felt inside I wanted to flip the table and dance on it. But I knew we had another game to go and it's something that comes every 40 years or so, it's something special.

"We need to make sure that we keep it inside. If you can get this right, then the celebrations on Sunday are going to be great.

"We were having beef wellington, and they were still playing. I was sitting next to Conor Murray, Earlsy (Keith Earls) and Garry (Ringrose), and all of our partners, so we were like: 'congratulations'. We had a glass of wine and said congratulations, and then you're back into this week. There's a lot to think about and work on.

"Luckily the speeches had finished and it was a big screen. Everyone was celebrating and enjoying it. Even the Scotland players had a few cheers. It was special.

"Look lads, to get a Championship, to win it, is great, but I don't want to take away from this week. It's big for us."

It has been a pressurised eight-week period and the management released the valve by inviting Christy Moore into Carton House to play for the squad on Monday night.

For Stander, the first title made up for some disappointments in a red jersey over the last few years.

"It was one of my main goals, I tell you that. I've been in a lot of finals, a lot of semi-finals, a lot of groups that got there and didn't have it," he admitted.

"Last year against Scarlets, last year against Saracens, it's tough; Glasgow four years ago up in Belfast was tough on a provincial level.

"When you get into this group, and as a new guy in my first two years, you just try to play well and fill in, and then you get to a point where you feel you can give something back to the group and back to the other players.

"You want to start winning things because you know that people talk that way, train that way. To win something, I didn't know whether to cry or to laugh. But again we've got a week to go still. It was good, that five minutes I had with my wife to celebrate it. It's still unreal."

Stander knows plenty of this weekend's opponents well from last summer's Lions tour and he is expecting an angry performance from the home side.

"They'll be angry with themselves at how they left it out there. It's going to be 23 angry Englishmen for sure," he said.

"Last year we had let ourselves down against Scotland and knew we had given ourselves a chance to finish second. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and England did as well.

"It is difficult to win away from home. You need to make sure you deal with the pressure and win all the small battles. Look after your ball. If you give them the ball with turnovers their back line is going to punish you."

The Munster flanker has been an ever-present in this campaign and he says there is a determination within the players to finish the tournament on a high for their team-mates like Chris Farrell and Robbie Henshaw who have fallen to injury.

"The players in this group know that we'll never get it again, so we know that we have to train well and play well," he said of the opportunity.

"We don't want to wake up on Sunday being happy, but sad as well.

"We've got an opportunity and we want to take it, but we know it's not going to be easy.

"We know that the players in this group won't have this opportunity again, so we want to give something back to the guys who've been injured and we want to give something back to the coaches too.

"There is a lot at the end of it, but I think if you don't treat it as just another game, your head and your thoughts are going to run away with you.

"I think we as a players' group and as a leaders' group, know how to train in these weeks.

"The experienced boys already spoke to us, those who've been there, and told us it's another game.

"You need to start well, win the small battles, make sure you do what you can do during the week, recover well and play well.

"The result is going to come if we play well."

Irish Independent

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