CJ Stander plays down residency rule change

CJ Stander has little hope that the change in residency rules voted for this week by World Rugby will reduce the heat he has been feeling as a South African wearing a different hue of green.
CJ Stander plays down residency rule change

The Munster back row is far from the only non-native player to wear the Irish jersey but he has become something of a lightning rod for those opposed to the old rule whereby a player who hadn’t previously played senior rugby for his country of birth could declare for another after a three-year residency.

The new ruling extending that eligibility period for ‘project players’, as they are called in Ireland, from 36 months to 60 was voted in at a World Rugby Council meeting in Kyoto yesterday. Driven by vice-chairman former Argentina international Agustin Pichot, it has been hailed as a game-changer.

“Ah, they can probably turn it into ten years, or even take it away, but people will always talk about it,” said Stander ahead of last night’s Rugby Players Ireland awards in Dublin where his club and international colleague Conor Murray was revealed as the Zurich Player’s Player of the Year.

“It will probably take a bit of pressure off me now for a while but it is always going to be there,” he added. “It’s always going to be a hot topic. Someone will step in and be the poster boy and, hopefully, take the pressure off me.”

Garry Ringrose received the Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year award while Geordan Murphy was welcomed into the BNY Mellon Hall of Fame but much of the talk at the ceremony will have centred on the 2019 World Cup draw held that morning.

Ireland could hardly have hoped for a better result.

A pool made up of Scotland, Japan, and two qualifiers likely to be Romania and Tonga isn’t exactly a cakewalk but it is pretty much the best Joe Schmidt’s side could have hoped for as they seek to break the country’s historic glass ceiling that is the last eight stage.

“It’s a good draw and we’re happy with it,” said Stander. “There’s a lot of other groups that would have been tougher to be in. Look, it’s the World Cup and there’s a few years to go with a lot of teams on an upward scale; hopefully we are also. It all depends on when we get there, but it’s a good draw.”

Japan demonstrated with their unforgettable defeat of South Africa in England two years ago that they are a danger, and their status as hosts will make them an even trickier opponent when the tournament swings round in just over two years.

Ireland will get a close look at the host team and the country at large next month when they play the Cherry Blossoms twice on their summer tour, although Stander and ten more of Schmidt’s men are due to be otherwise engaged with the Lions in New Zealand at the time.

“They are getting up there and they can still improve. There are still two years to go. This summer tour is going to be interesting now, it’s going to be good preparation. They’re at home and going to get all the support with the stands full. They’re going to be up emotionally wise, so it’s going to be interesting.”

Stander has had an interrupted ending to the domestic season with the ankle injury he suffered in the Champions Cup quarter-final defeat of Toulouse hampering him in the semi-final loss to Saracens and, though he faced Treviso a week later, he played no part in the defeat of Connacht last Saturday.

The news is good ahead of the Guinness PRO12 play-off against Ospreys, however. “Yeah, I had a good break,” he explained last night, “and Rassie (Erasmus) and the coaches gave me a good bit of time off to get back fully fit. I am fully fit now and looking forward to the semi-final.”

His importance to Munster can’t be overstated as they close in on a possible league title. A succession of man-of-the-match awards have gone his way after standout performances for club and country this season, but he was effusive in his praise for the man deemed by their peers to have been the nation’s best.

“He’s had an unbelievable season,” he said of Murray, who returned to action last weekend after a long layoff with nerve damage to his neck and shoulder.

“He’s one of those players who always picks us up and he’s always ready for the big games. Fair play to him, he’s been good over the last few years and it just shows you that all the players recognise what he’s done. It’s probably the highest honour you can get to get selected by your teammates. It’s great for him.”

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