Friday 20 April 2018

'Some people doubted me, but I was never leaving' - CJ Stander

Stander hits back at those who questioned his commitment

CJ Stander and Jean Kleyn walk out for training at the University of Limerick yesterday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
CJ Stander and Jean Kleyn walk out for training at the University of Limerick yesterday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

It takes a lot to ruffle CJ Stander's feathers but you only have to read the opening line of his statement regarding his contract renewal to get an insight into how frustrated he was with how the whole saga played out.

"Following a lot of speculation and unfounded articles in the media..."

For a man who respectfully shakes the hand of every person in the room before every press conference, something Johann van Graan also does, Stander made sure he got his point across when the IRFU announced his new three-year deal before Christmas.

Speculation surrounding his future had been rife, but of all the flight risks, Stander always seemed likely to remain with Munster.

Some reports had suggested that Montpellier were willing to pay the Irish international a staggering €840,000 a year, but Stander says he never even spoke with another club.

"I wouldn't say I was annoyed, I just wanted to clarify that there was no intention to ever leave," he explains.

"A lot of people deal with their contract negotiations differently. I have only got two guys who look after them. We normally talk in the beginning and say, 'this is what we think is an acceptable contract'. I leave them off and I said to them, 'Cheers'. I didn't want to see them again until they put paper in front of me.

"That was the case again. I sat down with everyone and they were quite happy to keep me here in the first place.

Quickly

"That was the biggest thing, to stay and keep me here. We wanted to do it as quickly as we could. I sat down with (IRFU director high performance) David Nucifora and we had a good chat before we even started negotiations. It was fair, quiet and easy."

Since Stander became Irish-qualified in May 2015, he has often been used as a lightning rod to criticise World Rugby's residency rules.

The 27-year-old has almost come to expect it from some quarters but when he learned that people were questioning his commitment to Munster, that was an entirely different matter.

Few players have bought into the province's culture as much as the South Africa native and he is eager to set the record straight.

"There were a lot of figures thrown around," he begins.

Read more: Ireland have learnt a lesson from slow start - O'Brien

"Speculation and a lot of big contracts were thrown around. There was a split between, 'he would be stupid not to go' and 'if he doesn't go it will be great'. There was a little bit of that (people questioning commitment).

"I grew up with loyalty and I remember someone told me a long time ago just before I left South Africa that if you want loyalty in rugby you have to go and buy yourself a dog. But then I came to Munster and Ireland.

"For me that was one of the biggest things, the loyalty we have here as a club and the Irish set-up and the squad. I just felt that I wanted to repay that loyalty that they had in me beforehand... what they meant to me in the last few years since I got here. And it was quite an easy decision.

"One of the big points for me staying is Johann van Graan signing. He is a special coach. He is someone that is bringing something different to the party.

"He has a vision that if everyone can get that, then we are going to get some silverware but it will take hard work.

"I made a lot of sacrifices. I left the family behind. The family is getting older, my dad is getting older and farming on his own. My mum, all of them.

"I miss small things. I miss funerals, I miss people growing up. I miss my family growing up, my cousins and nephews, whatever.

"I miss my friends getting married. But at the end of the day I made the decision at the age of 22 to come over here and Munster and Ireland have been very loyal to me, to put a lot of work and money into me, to get me to where I am now.

"For me, to one day win something with Munster and go to a World Cup, that's the greatest way for me to repay them. I really think we have the squad with Munster to win something.

"And I think with the Irish set-up with the coaches and players and the quality we have in Ireland, going to a World Cup - something can happen."

There were offers on the table, Stander admits but having clubs interested is different to speaking with them.

Since making his Ireland debut in the 2016 Six Nations, Stander has become a key part of Joe Schmidt's plans, which was reflected in the IRFU's eagerness to promote him to a national contract from next season.

Favourite

After a tricky start to life in Limerick, Stander is now one of Munster's leaders and a crowd favourite, while with the World Cup less than two years away, he was not ready to leave.

"There were offers that I got afterwards," he says.

"There were offers without us even talking to people. But for me talking about that, my representatives didn't even, not accommodate it, but they just took it in and left it there.

"For me, the biggest thing was if I get the opportunity I would really, really love to play in a World Cup.

"There are a lot of people that have different goals and stuff they want to do in life. For me, I enjoy my rugby but I want to win something with Munster.

"I am eager and want to put myself out there with this squad that we can win something and leave something behind here one day.

"The other thing, hopefully if I am selected and fit enough and still playing well enough, that I can still can go to a World Cup.

"That has been a boyhood dream since I started playing rugby. That's the biggest stage that you can go to. For me, that was always one of the biggest things."

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