‘CJ has given his heart and soul to the green jersey and the red one’

LONG AFTER THE final whistle, CJ Stander stood out on the pitch in the near-empty stadium, his phone raised in front of him to share the moment with his family back in South Africa.

The reality of no fans has been tough for players during the pandemic, but not having family and friends there has been even harder.

For Stander today, having played his last Ireland Test, it was almost cruel that they couldn’t be with him.

The emotion was clear as Stander’s team-mates shared their congratulations after a stunning 32-18 victory over England on an evening when things clicked for Andy Farrell’s side. They can look to the future with a new wave of momentum but Stander won’t be part of what is to come. 

Sadly, his farewell came without fans to clap him off but he bowed out as part of an outstanding Irish performance.

“I’ve just said to him in the changing room that 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 and to the red one,” said Ireland boss Andy Farrell post-match.

“He has a chance to play in a cup final for Munster next week so we wish him all the best with that.

“It’s been an emotional week. We’ve tried to keep a lid on it the best we can and you can say whether we should have brought that out or not but it is fitting that CJ was able to say goodbye to his friends and tell them the truth from where’s he’s coming from, the reasons why, etc.

Stander and his Ireland team-mates. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“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 we’re delighted that we’re able to put a performance together for CJ to send him off in the right way.

“We’re delighted that we managed to control the emotion in the right way and he’s 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 you’ll ever meet.”

Aside from sending Stander off in style, it was a hugely pleasing day for Ireland as they finished their Six Nations on a real high by blowing England away.

Farrell took pride in his players’ big final effort even if there will be regrets that they weren’t still in the hunt for the trophy.

“To win your last game in a tournament is always pleasing because it’s a long time between drinks until the next one,” said Farrell. “To finish off with a W is pleasing but I’m just delighted for the lads because they have come in for a bit of stick.

“Obviously, we’ve lost a couple of games and lost one here to France which we never like to lose but the lads have always believed in how they’re progressing and they’ve always thought there was a performance like that in them.

“The performance wasn’t perfect, there’s still a lot to work on, but I’m so pleased for them that they got over the line with a nice victory against a very good side.”