By Brendan O’Brien
CJ Stander has warned that Ireland’s hopes of overcoming England at Twickenham on Saturday will be made all the more difficult by the fact that the hosts will be bent on making up for their disastrous outings at the venue during last year’s World Cup.
The tournament hosts lost to both Wales and Australia in their pool games at ‘HQ’ late last year, ultimately failing to make the knock-out stages, and this weekend’s fixture will be their first at the ground since then.
It will also mark the first ever home game for new head coach Eddie Jones who has opened up his England account with a pair of Six Nations wins thus far: away to Scotland on the first weekend and on the road in Rome against Italy.
“They have a new coach and a great group of athletes and you know what they are going to bring the pitch. They will have that feeling because they fell out of the pool stages and at Twickenham they will probably want to show the English supporters what they can do.
“That’s the thing you need to look out for,” said the naturalised South African who will earn his third Ireland cap in London. “You know what they are going to bring to the match, but I think that gives them another 10% drive to play the game.”
Stander has made an instant impact on the Ireland team performances. No-one has carried more balls than he Munster captain and his elevation to Test rugby is well-time given Sean O’Brien’s absence from the back row.
O’Brien’s Six Nations has been capped at the 20 minutes he managed against France two weekends ago due to a hamstring injury and Stander has seen enough of the Leinster flanker to know that his loss is a blow to Ireland’s chances of claiming a first win of the campaign.
“Massive,” said Stander. “He is all over the park and he has got the work rate of a horse. He carries, he tackles and he is also a leader of the team. To fill that gap, I won’t say it will be tough because the boys are ready for it, but his leadership and his ball carries will be missed.
“Luckily we have depth to put someone in there.”