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Ireland are still excited to achieve at the Rugby World Cup, insists Stander

Running man: CJ Stander on the charge against Scotland
Running man: CJ Stander on the charge against Scotland
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

CJ Stander was among members of the Ireland squad that took themselves to a knife-making workshop in Kobe yesterday. If he had any sense of blades being sharpened back home, though, the Munster No.8 was already keen to turn the page.

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Saturday's loss to Japan, the stunning upset that has turned Pool A on its head and left Joe Schmidt's men with questions to answer ahead of Thursday's game with Russia, is still fresh in the memory, but their shortest turnaround of this World Cup means that today, their only full training session of the week, is no time to dwell.

"I think we had time to reflect on it and look back on what we could have done and the opportunities that we left out there," he said. "So surely a bit of frustration and it's part of this game, a loss like that is going to sting.

"The mood yesterday, it was a travel day, was a bit down, but today it's picking up again because we know we have a big game coming up.

"In this game I've learned that you can't take more than 24 hours to get your head right again because you've got an opportunity to go out there and represent that jersey again.

"When you lose in an Irish jersey it stings, but you know you've got a job to do, so you need to pick yourself up and be a man."

Ireland's fortune this time around, if you can call it that, is of course that their tournament is not over. For all their history of disappointment in this competition, barring the 2007 lows against Georgia and Namibia, themselves victories we could almost forget, such performances have always meant a swift packing of the bags and an earlier than hoped for flight home.

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In this instance, there is still time to make good, even if the confidence their public has in them doing so has been decimated.

For his part, Stander knows that from here until their competition exit, there are no more second chances.

"The people who have been here before are driving that, but I think as well that people who have been involved in cup rugby know if it happens again, you don't have a chance," he said.

"It's just as a group, again, we know what we have to fix and what we have to do, and people are actually excited about the fixes we can have in the game and it's just to make sure we go out and use those opportunities as a squad and a team."

The frustration for those watching from home or here in Kobe is that we'll not know whether they have until that weekend in mid-October when the last-eight eventually rolls around. Even if Ireland, with their creative heartbeat Johnny Sexton back in the side, could swat away Japan on Thursday and cruise past Samoa 10 days later, we'd still be none the wiser, such has been their maddening inconsistency in 2019.

When Schmidt took the job in 2013, he set about dispelling the nation's reputation as one that could put it up to the big boys on their day but, just as often, fail to turn up. In that regard, last year was the zenith.

When Ireland beat all comers, their only defeat was the first Test of a series win in Australia. Their first such victory since 1979, the sole blot on the copy book was seen as a calculated risk with six changes, including Sexton on the bench, from the Grand Slam clincher in Twickenham three months prior justified once the visitors came roaring back to take the next two.

This year, the contrast is stark. England in Dublin, Wales in Cardiff, England in Twickenham and now Japan in Shizuoka, the response has always been there, the next kick up the backside lurking too.

"You never know what is out there and is waiting for you, that's rugby," Stander countered.

"I think that warm-up game (against England) gave us good lessons to bounce back and we know what we need to do now and what we stand for as a squad, and we've got to, at some stage, take those lessons and put them to work.

"I think we drive ourselves by massive standards and we know if we can get our process right and win those moments, we know we can get points and put teams under pressure. 

"I think we've done well over the last few years and the last few games it'd just again be how we deal with it. I think we're excited to fix those small moments to see what we can do with the rest of this tournament."

Definitive proof that they will likely have to wait a lot longer than Thursday.

Belfast Telegraph


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