DUBLIN: CJ Stander said this was his last game for Ireland. Then he acted like he didn’t want to go.
Long after Ireland gave its stalwart back-rower the sendoff it wished for by thrashing England 32-18 in the Six Nations on Saturday, Stander was still on the field in an empty and dark Lansdowne Road.
Family and friends weren’t allowed to attend Ireland’s tournament finale in the ongoing pandemic, so he was sharing his moments in the jersey with them on his phone.
“I just wish my family could be here, especially my wife and my daughter, and the supporters, Stander said.
“We spoke about it at halftime (when Ireland led 20-6). We said imagine that’s the score and we’re running in at halftime, this place would have erupted. Those are the special days, and I cant wait for them to come back, be in the seats, and cheering the boys on.
Stander announced on Tuesday he was retiring from Ireland and Munster duty at the end of this season because his family was back in his native South Africa and they had sacrificed long enough for him to live out his dreams. This was his 51st test and last at home. He’s available for Irelands July tests or a second British and Irish Lions tour.
His decision took Ireland by surprise. He turns 31 next month but he remains in rich form.
Stander led the Six Nations in carries in 2017, 18, and 20. He came into the match on Saturday leading the tournament again, and added eight more carries, three of them in a 23-phase try finished by fellow back-rower Jack Conan. He also made 10 tackles in another powerful display.
After the match, he was feted by teammates and shed tears on the field.
“He can be as emotional as he wants to be now because he has given his heart and soul to the jersey, to the green one (Ireland) and to the red one (Munster), Ireland coach Andy Farrell said.
“It’s been an emotional week. We’ve tried to keep a lid on it the best we can. It is fitting that CJ was able to say goodbye to his friends and tell them the truth (about retiring) from wheres hes coming from, the reasons why, etc.
“How they’ve responded to him and how he’s kept a smile on his face has been totally fitting to what this team is about and were delighted that were able to put a performance together for CJ to send him off in the right way. Hes emotional in the changing rooms, but happy emotional.
“I cannot say enough about him as a bloke. He’s the most kind-hearted, most genuine bloke that youll ever meet.
Considered too small to be a Springbok, Stander came to in Ireland in 2012 and said he never felt like a foreigner. In his national team debut in the 2016 Six Nations, he was man of the match. He featured in Irelands first win over New Zealand in 2016 and the 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam.
Dreams do come true, and I worked hard for that jersey, to be in this jersey, he said. The boys made it easy to be in it, week-in, week-out, to get up and perform. There is a special team here, things are going to happen for this team, and its going to be a privilege to watch them.
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