What is considered small in South Africa certainly wouldn’t be sneezed at in all rugby circles, so the availability of 6’2” 17-stone flanker CJ Stander for Ireland selection has been greeted with enthusiasm.
But to suggest that his perceived lack of bulk impinged on his ability to make it in his country of birth would be wrong.
A succession of coaches from underage through to adult rugby tipped him for greatness. In fact, there was widespread shock in South African rugby circles when he decided, at the age of 23, to head for Europe and make a strong statement.
In Ireland his arrival at Munster as a project player — making him available to play for Ireland once residency rules of three years are adhered to — has been more widely welcomed than the sudden availability of New Zealander Michael Bent, who has already won two caps for his “new” country.
Stander’s fellow South African Richardt Strauss made the transition from provincial to international player after serving an appropriate apprenticeship with Leinster. Now Munster’s latest acquisition is happy to follow suit.
Yet he does express remorse that he might eventually be taking a place from homegrown talent. If, he said, it were to happen that he got capped for Ireland, he admitted it could be tough for local players to swallow.
“Yeah, that would be bad from their perspective, but I think it is great that another country can recognise potential and bring a player like me in.”
Stander says he figured this dilemma out by speaking with family and friends at length before making any decisions and believes he made a wise choice. Originally he made it based on joining a top class club rather than the aspiration to play international rugby for anyone other than South Africa.
“When I decided to come here I said to myself I wanted to come to a team, to a club that’s amongst the best in the world.
“After that, coming to Ireland as a project player, to play for Ireland is just a great honour. In the first few weeks here people have been amazing — the way they support you — it’s a rugby culture.”
Stander’s first introduction to game time with Munster was at Musgrave Park on Sunday. It wasn’t a night he will particularly remember as his new club lost and he was denied a try after exhaustive video replay examination.
He figures he scored but accepts the television replay didn’t substantiate his claims for a try in the dying seconds of the first half against Scarlets. It was a crucial decision, given that Munster eventually lost their way in the second half and went down 13-6.
“It was disappointing, I watched it afterwards on TV and from my perspective I grounded it, then I saw the TV and you couldn’t see the ball being grounded. It was a tough decision and I think the right decision.”
Stander hopes for a better return, personally and collectively, when Munster take on Glasgow at Thomond Park tomorrow. “Hopefully I’ll get another run and an opportunity to help the team secure the win.”
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