Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Six Nations

CJ Stander admits Title is special but job not over as Ireland aim for Grand Slam


By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Dressed in a suit, sitting alongside wife Jean-Marie and tucking into a main course of beef Wellington, CJ Stander celebrated his first trophy as a senior rugby player last Saturday night.

It isn't how he'd pictured it, and he knows there's more to come, but it was important for the 27-year-old to mark the moment before switching focus to the next challenge.

Inevitably, a loss in Twickenham this Saturday would detract from Ireland's moment. It may feel like it's Grand Slam or nothing but, regardless of what happens, they'll be collecting a trophy at the end of it all.

A hollow victory remains a victory and Stander does not want to lose sight of that amid the fever surrounding the St Patrick's Day finale.

He and his team-mates have worked too hard not to at least savour the success they achieved last weekend.

"We had dinner. We as players and partners were sitting on one side, and everyone else was celebrating," he recalled of the post-match banquet at the Aviva Stadium last weekend.

"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. It's my first senior win.

"Inside, I wanted to flip the table and dance on it. But I knew we had another game and it's something that comes every 40 years or so, it's special.

"We need to make sure that we keep it inside. If you can get this right, then the celebrations are going to be great.

"I was sitting next to Conor Murray, Earlsy (Keith Earls) and Garry (Ringrose), and all of our partners, so we were like, 'Congratulations'. We had a glass of wine, and then you're back into this week. There's a lot to think about and work on.

"Everyone was celebrating and enjoying it. Even the Scotland players had a few cheers. It was special.

"To get a Championship is great, but I don't want to take away from this week. It's big."

It has been a pressurised eight-week period and the management released the valve by inviting Christy Moore into Carton House to play for the squad on Monday night.

For Munster ace Stander, the first title made up for some disappointments in a red jersey.

"It was one of my main goals. 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," he admitted. "Last year against Scarlets, last year against Saracens, it's tough; Glasgow four years ago in Belfast was tough.

"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 other players.

"You want to start winning things because you know people talk that way, train that way. To win something, I didn't know whether to cry or laugh. It was good, that five minutes I had with my wife to celebrate it. It's still unreal."

Stander knows plenty of this weekend's opponents well from last summer's Lions tour.

"They'll be angry with themselves at how they left it out there. It's going to be 23 angry Englishmen," he said. "Last year we had let ourselves down against Scotland and knew we had given ourselves a chance to finish second.

"It is difficult to win away. You need to make sure you deal with the pressure and win all the small battles. If you give them the ball with turnovers their back line will punish you."

The Munster ace has been an ever-present and says there is a determination to finish on a high for team-mates like Chris Farrell and Robbie Henshaw who have fallen to injury.

"The players in this group know we'll never get it again, so we know we have to train well and play well," he said. "We want to give something back to the guys who've been injured and we want to give something back to the coaches too.

"The experienced boys spoke to us, those who've been there, and told us it's another game.

"You need to start well, make sure you do what you can, recover and play well. The result will come if we play well."

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph