Three minutes to go at the Aviva Stadium. Ireland are seven points up on the Scots in last Saturday’s Six Nations opener but camped along their own try line when Hamish Watson makes another surge for the in-goal area and hero status with it.
James Ryan launches himself so low his nose must cut the grass but it forces Watson off his feet and sets up a ruck on Ireland’s terms. CJ Stander pounces, clamping his mitts on the ball before referee Mathieu Raynal penalises the visiting back row for holding on.
Relief sweeps around the stadium. There is a brief smile from Stander and a lingering embrace with a bloodied Peter O’Mahony who, like him, has shouldered considerable criticism for some of his performances in this past 12 months.
It’s a touching moment amid the brutality and the fever.
“It is a good feeling,” said Stander this week.
He didn’t look to paint it as a moment of exoneration, or as some sort of two-fingered salute to the critics. There is an understanding on his part that a player is always just one or two so-so displays away from a point where his worth and place in the team is there to be questioned.
That’s rugby and he has no qualms about dealing with it. If someone thinks there is a more deserving claimant for his jersey then so be it although some of the commentary makes him wonder.
He shook his head and laughed when recounting how one-unnamed observer had labelled him fat.
“I was just told about it during the week.”
What he finds much more difficult than those picking holes with his efforts are the fans who have opted to greet him on the street after a game that hasn’t gone his way and whisper in a manner normally reserved for mourners at a funeral.
“That is the worst part.”
Well, maybe for him as a player, that is. No man is an island, even when they spend months on end in the sealed environment of national camp, and the ripple effect of holding such a public role is that any negativity towards you can find itself lapping on the shores of your nearest and dearest.
His wife Jean-Marie was vocal about the backlash that accompanied the Ireland team’s efforts at last year’s World Cup when they lost to Japan and exited at the hands of the All Blacks.
She took to Twitter at one point and gave an interview to theat another.
‘Disrespectful’ was the word she used to sum up the media’s take.
‘The media’ is a very broad church, of course, and criticism was always going to be part of the package when the side fell so far below expectations in Japan. What Stander himself can’t abide are contributions which he describes as attacks on his family via social media.
“For me that is tough because I believe that if you are tough enough to take on a man’s wife and you can’t do it in front of him then …. hmmm. There is a line there that you step over.
That might be my South African side coming through but that raises a hair on my neck.
He added: “My wife was trying to hide it but when I got back (from Japan) I saw that it impacted (her) a little bit. But she is a strong woman. She handled it well. She can stand up for herself. She didn’t study law for nothing. She is a tough one. That is why I like her.”
Stander has always spoken in reverential tones about playing for Munster and for Ireland. And about the importance of doing the jersey proud, not least because there is always a chance that the next game could be your last.
His brother-in-law Ryk Neethling last year revealed in a tweet that Stander had played for over an hour against England in Dublin with fractures to his cheek and eye socket.
Yet his status as a ‘project player’ means some will never be comfortable with his name on the teamsheet.
He has long since comes to terms with that. Opinions are opinions and there is no issue from him as to which side of this debate someone falls so long as views are aired respectfully and without recourse to bile, whether the focus falls on him or Bundee Aki or whoever else.
“Yeah, didn’t Bundee get a lot of flak as well? So we have talked about it. It’s something that we take in and then, again, when guys perform on the pitch, like Bundee did at the weekend, then you look at it again and just laugh at it on a Sunday morning.”
Stander, Aki and the rest of Farrell’s squad and staff would have had precious little to humour them last Sunday had Watson breached the chalk, or if Stuart Hogg had managed to hold onto the ball as he crossed it earlier in that half, and Scotland claimed a win or a draw.
Had that scenario unfolded then the Andy Farrell era would have found itself gravely undermined from the off, but the ability of the Ireland defence in limiting Scotland to six points from 11 visits to their 22 has instead been hailed as a solid foundation on which to build as Wales come to town.
“It bodes well for the team,” said Stander whose superb performance was marked with a man-of-the-match award. “We did it a few years ago in Paris as well. It means a lot for the team. We had to dig in and work hard because Scotland brought it to us.
“They were physical and took us on on the front foot. We were defending in our 22 for a few phases sometimes so that means a lot to the team when people put their bodies on the line. That’s perfect for us.”