It was the moment the opening Test began to get away from Ireland but as frequently as CJ Stander mentally replays his missed try-scoring opportunity, the back-rower is satisfied he made the right call in real time.
Two minutes after the interval and with Ireland trailing 8-6 to the Wallabies in Brisbane, Stander made his side’s first significant linebreak as he ran a smart line between halfway and the Australian 10m line to take a short, smart pass off Bundee Aki and slip between Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley, darting to the try line and crashing over only for the TMO to rule he had been held up by Australian wings Dane Haylett-Petty and Marika Koroibete.
It was definitely five points that got away for the tourists and the question much asked since was whether Stander might have been better served to pass to support runner Rob Herring, who had Aki and Jordi Murphy in close attendance on his outside shoulder.
Stander said he is not one to reflect for too long, not when there is a second Test and the chance to level the series.
“It’s great to look back at them, have those pictures in your head and learn from them. I’ve learned from them already but I can’t take that into this week because there’s a lot of preparation, I need to push lads around me to train well, train better, and hopefully, if I get in that same position then I’ll know what I’m going to do.”
The No8 knew where Herring was but not whether there was a Wallaby tracking the hooker’s run or in a position to intercept a potential pass.
“So in my head, the momentum will carry me over but if I go down, Rob’s there to clean up with the ball after.
“I thought if I was going to ground I’d two good supporters and if I didn’t get over the line they would play off that and we were going to be on the front foot anyway. But I didn’t think I was going to get over the line anyway.
“I knew it was going to be tough watching it because if you make a 40m breakout you want to get a try on the end of it and have that smile on your face as you walk back and make the boys proud. If you don’t get it, it’s like you’ve missed an opportunity and you’ve let the boys around you down. It’s an opportunity you should have taken.”
Even the grounding has played on Stander’s mind, the Munster man rolling over on top of Haylett-Petty but leaving no view of whether he touched the ball down.
“I reckon there’s a bit of grass there I surely grounded the ball on,” he said. “I knew you were going to ask that question!
What is as plain as day is that Ireland go into Saturday’s second Test one down in the series, the same situation as Stander and his Lions cohorts were in after last June’s first-Test defeat to the All Blacks in Auckland. “If I think back now I was playing three games in one week (against the Chiefs, the Hurricanes, and the second Test), I was so tired at that stage,” he recalls.
“I didn’t know if I was going to play that weekend but I just remember saying it’s another challenge on our hands to come down here. We’ve got two games to go; they’re one up so if we can get the next one then the third one is going to be in our hands. So the main thing was just to be excited about the week.”
Stander recognises the need to improve on Saturday’s performance. “Just look after the ball and reduce turnovers at the breakdown. Make sure we get to the ball earlier and don’t give them those chances onto the ball. I think (flankers
Michael) Hooper and (David) Pocock are so good on the ball that they did it a few times. Yeah, that would be it.”
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