CJ Stander has waited a long time to win his first senior title as a professional rugby player, but he’s waiting another week to celebrate it properly.
The Munster flanker was sitting with his teammates in Dublin last weekend, an hour or so after Ireland dismantled Scotland to put themselves on the brink of a third Six Nations title in five years.
Sitting down to dinner with the Scotland team also in the same room, Stander and company watched France defeat England in Paris to ensure the title went the way of Joe Schmidt’s team, but the reaction was strangely muted given the players were in their suits, rather than their boots.
A few glasses of wine were shared and a polite “congratulations” amongst the players, but each and every member of Joe Schmidt’s squad knew the true celebrations are likely to come next Saturday night if they can defeat England at Twickenham.
“We had dinner, and as players and partners we were sitting on one side, and everyone else was celebrating,” Stander said, “But we didn’t really celebrate because we knew we had another job at hand.
“To win a championship with a game in hand is a great achievement and I will never take that away.
“I’ve never had it; it’s my first senior [title] win ever in my life.
“I felt inside I wanted to flip the table and dance on it. But I knew we had another game to go.
At 27, it’s barely credible Stander has not yet gotten his hands on a trophy, a feat that means his will be one of the widest smiles in London next weekend, whether the slam is achieved or not.
But the sense is that this side is pleased with the title, but not thrilled.
Stander has tasted defeat in all his big finals so far, so you can be certain he will treat Saturday’s clash as another.
“Winning a title was one of my main goals, I tell you that,” he said. “I’ve been in a lot of finals, a lot of semi-finals, a lot of groups that got there and didn’t have it.
“Last year [with Munster] against Scarlets, last year against Saracens, it’s tough; Glasgow four years ago up in Cardiff was tough on a provincial level.
“When you get into this group, and as a new guy in my first two years, you just try to play well and fill in, and then you get to a point where you feel you can give something back to the group and back to the other players.
“You want to start winning things because you know that people talk that way, train that way. To win something, I didn’t know to cry or to laugh.
“But again we’ve got a week to go still.
“It was good, that five minutes I had with my wife to celebrate it. It’s still unreal.”
Stander was eating Beef Wellington after Scotland had met their Waterloo in Aviva Stadium, and revealed that the Scots cheered England’s defeat in Paris, too.
“The game was on a big screen behind the speeches,” he said.
“Luckily the speeches had finished and the England game was on the big screen, everyone was celebrating and enjoying it — even the Scotland players had a few cheers. It was special.
"Look, to get a Championship, to win it, is great, but I don’t want to take away from this week. It’s big for us.”
Victory in Twickenham is something Ireland have not tasted since 2010, and Stander outlined exactly what they’ll need to do well to experience is this Saturday.
“Knowing the England players, it’s going to be a tough, physical game,” he said.
"It’s a team that is physical up front, the back-line always punishes you, and when we’ve been over there, sometimes they can put pressure on you that you can’t handle.
“You can feel training goes up, and this week, I wouldn’t say it’s different from other weeks, but when it’s an England week, everyone gives it a step up and knows they need to be at their best going into the game.
“We need to win those small battles because that’s when you get punished. You can’t let one moment slip by.
“They’ll be angry with themselves for sure at how they left it out there. It’s going to be 23 angry Englishmen for sure.”
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