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Representing Ireland at the World Cup would be a dream, says new dad Stander

 

Hard yards: CJ Stander puts in the graft during Ireland’s warm-weather training camp in Portugal
Hard yards: CJ Stander puts in the graft during Ireland’s warm-weather training camp in Portugal

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

For CJ Stander, 2019 will always be a year to remember regardless of what happens in Japan. Not that he isn't determined to make it even more memorable.

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The Ireland No.8 and his wife Jean-Marie welcomed their new baby girl Everli into the world earlier this month and if things go well in the next couple of months he's hoping that they will be able to make it to Tokyo if the men in green achieve something special.

Right now, he's watching her develop over Skype as he prepares for his first World Cup with the team at their Portugal base.

On Saturday, he'll be at the back of the Irish scrum for the first time since the Six Nations came to an end. Facing England at Twickenham is quite a way to start your season.

"Yeah, it's the deep end," he said. "The next few games going into the World Cup, it's what you want and need preparation-wise.

"We've trained well, we prepared well, England have a few games under their belt now so I think it's going to be a great match-up because there are going to be mistakes on both sides.

"But you're going straight into a Test match at Twickenham, it's a special place for a lot of people and for them as well so it's going to be a tough, physical game.

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"That's why there are warm-up games, to see where you are and where you can better yourself, where you can spend some more time. We've trained well, a few boys had a game against Italy.

"Going into this game, we're going to play our game and see what's at the end of it."

These weeks are all about the big show and, having qualified to play for Ireland midway through the last World Cup, Stander is determined to get to Japan.

While the 1995 World Cup never came to George in the Western Cape, he remembers drinking it all in from the farm and is relishing the opportunity to be involved.

"To go to a World Cup is any boy's dream, since you can think, since you can add one and one, it's anyone's dream to go to a World Cup," he said. "To be part of this group and representing this group would be unreal.

"It would be an unbelievable dream. It's something I've really worked hard towards.

"There's things that are out of your control but the things that are in my control, I've tried to work on them and make that push.

"I don't really remember the 1995 final, I don't know why. If I think back, our family probably had a massive barbecue and made a massive day of it.

"But, earlier games, I remember just sitting on a single, slide-out sofa for myself one Friday night and watching one of the games. I can't remember which game or who was playing but I remember watching the World Cup and thinking to myself, 'That's unreal'.

"Five-years-old. After that, all the World Cups, all the games, I've been glued to the TV.

"It's been a big thing for our family as well and it would be an unbelievable dream to go to a World Cup."

Barring an unfortunate injury, that dream will become a reality for Stander in the next couple of weeks. The hard part is being away from home, but he is hoping that the sacrifice will be worth it.

And, if they are still going at the end of October, he's hoping he can celebrate with the family.

"It is tough, I don't think it will ever be easy," he said of being away from home. "If I Skype now and see pictures of her, she's changed already. When I left, her eyes were still closed because she was born two weeks early but just to see her now, being busy, moving around.

"It is tough. I knew it and Jean-Marie knows it, Everli didn't know it but I knew it was going to happen, there's a big, big goal at the end of this and if I can celebrate it with them...

"We're going to see if she's fine to travel and if she is they'll be on a plane, if we get to the end of it (tournament) hopefully, so that is the goal to get them over there."

Despite the growing concerns among fans and pundits, Stander is upbeat about the team's prospects and reckons the field is wide open for Japan.

"We train hard, we train well, we've a good squad, great coaches and unbelievable management," he said. "We've got all the right tools. If we train hard every week we'll give ourselves a chance.

"It's going to be an exciting World Cup. Everyone is doing well.

"As a spectator, it's going to be a show, a big show. It's wide open. For everyone who loves rugby, it's going to be unbelievable."

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