CJ Stander is named Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year

Ireland forward is also Munster’s Player of the Year for the second time in succession

If CJ Stander is expanding his portfolio of sponsors then he might consider Brasso in appreciation of the volume of accolades he's stockpiled, the latest of which is to be named the 2016 Guinness Rugby Writers' Player of the Year.

Quite apart from the 26-year-old’s numerous man-of-the-match awards, he was voted Munster’s Player of the Year for the second time in succession in recognition of his exploits last season and is the current IRUPA Players’ Player of the Year.

On the pitch he made his Ireland debut against Wales in the opening Six Nations Championship match last February. Since then he has won 10 caps, scoring three tries including in the 40-29 victory over New Zealand in Chicago, and been part of an Irish team that has racked up a number of firsts, including beating the Springboks in South Africa and then the All Blacks, the latter after 111 years.

He’s compiled quite a resume since joining Munster in 2012, admitting: “I think when you’re a younger boy you go through a stage where you want to get a lot of pats on the back but when you get older and you get into a team you just want to perform for all the boys and for the team to help them win. That’s really my biggest drive.

“It’s been a great year, an unbelievable last three years and I’ve worked hard to get to the place where I am now. The biggest thing for me now is to drive on from there and not settle or be part of the furniture. You always have to push on and create something new.”

Highlight

When asked about his highlights since arriving in Ireland Stander spoke about the honour of being made Munster captain – Peter O'Mahony wears the armband currently – particularly as he received the news from the late Anthony Foley, whose passing affected him deeply.

“The passing away of the big man, Axel (Anthony Foley), was very tough and I won’t put that behind me. The South Africa thing, the red card (in the first Test), for me personally, it was one of my worst days but the team won for the first time in South Africa so there was a bigger picture. It was about the team, not about you.

“You can’t go into a corner and feel bad for yourself. You still have to give the boys in green your best training during the week, get out of your shell and work your hardest for the team.

“That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned in the last few years, as long as you work hard for the people around you, they’ll pick you up, especially in this group and the group down in Munster. They’re special people, very special people. They’re people you can sit down with and talk to them if you have a problem, so it’s good.”

Stander offered an insight into what learned from their two matches with New Zealand and the lessons to be employed going forward from a team perspective. “There are a lot of positives but the biggest thing is the belief, in yourself and the people around you. New Zealand are the best team in the world but if you step up against them and make sure everything is 100 per cent (accurate) you can do it, but if you make a mistake they’re going to penalise you.

Instinct

“What I’ve learned in international rugby is that everything has to be instinctive. You can’t stop and think ‘I’m going to do this’ because while you’re thinking they’re doing something different. So everything has to be on instinct. All their players work on instinct and that’s why they had the edge for a while but now I’m looking forward to the next few seasons.

“But there’s a lot of depth now and it was great to see against Canada that you can make 15 changes and the boys stepped up and got 50 points. We all work hard for each other and there’s a common goal we work towards and Joe (Schmidt), for me personally, is the best coach in the world.

“(If) you go out onto the pitch, play your game, be disciplined and consistent and just do what you’ve done during the week, you get results.”

He embodies that philosophy, both for province and country.

Guinness Rugby Writers’ award winners 2016

Team of the Year: Connacht
Club of the Year: Clontarf
Player of the Year: CJ Stander
Women's Player of the Year: Sene Naoupu
Hall of Fame: Phil Orr, Tony Ward
Tom Rooney Memorial award: Tony Smeeth (Dublin University)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer

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