CJ Stander expecting big response as Ireland go ‘back to zero’
Munster stalwart convinced tourists will prove a different proposition next weekend
CJ Stander breaks the line during the first Test against Australia at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. However a try failed to materialise as it was deemed he hadn’t successfully grounded the ball. Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA
Thanks in the main to Johann van Graan, ‘back to zero’ at the start of every new match week has become part of the Irish rugby lexicon. Even Rob Kearney used it in the aftermath of Saturday’s first Test defeat in Brisbane. But after a dozen successive wins, for the first time in 15 months it seems particularly apt for this Irish squad.
Last Saturday was something of a reality check for the Six Nations Grand Slam champions, as it was for England and France in South Africa and New Zealand, not to mention Italy in Japan.
Less than three years on from a World Cup when no Six Nations team made the semi-finals, around 15 months out from the next World Cup this was a reminder that the Southern Hemisphere superpowers bring something different to the party.
Granted, there were extenuating circumstances in the scale of France’s 52-11 defeat to the All Blacks in their Eden Park fortress, notably the questionable yellow card to France lock Paul Gabrillagues with the scores tied at 11-all which led to New Zealand scoring three quick tries.
This was in stark contrast to the unpunished shoulder to the head of Remy Grosso by prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi after Sam Cane had first caught the French winger around the neck, and which saw Grosso suffer a double facial fracture. Referee Luke Pearce and TMO George Ayoub deemed that worthy of “just a penalty”.
They and World Rugby have failed in their primary duty of care for the safety of players and it again fuels the feeling that there are one set of laws for the All Blacks and one set for anyone else.
There was nothing illegal in the big hits by Kurtley Beale on Conor Murray, Samu Kerevi on Rob Kearney and Michael Hooper on Joey Carbery with which the Wallabies drew a line in the sand. But, like the match itself, it will have served as an eye-opener for an Irish squad (28 of whom have never toured Australia with Ireland before).
CJ Stander hasn’t been in Melbourne since the Bulls recorded a last-ditch Super Rugby win over the Rebels in the venue for Saturday’s second Test, AAMI Park. Responding to a defeat is something this Irish team hasn’t had to do since beating England in last year’s Six Nations finale a week after losing away to Wales.
“It’s something we haven’t felt in a long time. I think at some stages we weren’t as sharp as we wanted to be and as sharp as we were in the Six Nations. The other thing is that Australia took all their chances and converted them into points, whereas we didn’t. Looking back on that, we know we can fix the small things.”
As for Stander himself, he was left to rue the try that got away following his 45 -metre break off Bundee Aki’s pass for the try that got away.
“If you make a 40-metre breakout you want to get a try on the end of it and have that smile on your face as you walk back and make the boys proud. If you don’t get it, it’s like you’ve missed an opportunity and you’ve let the boys around you down. It’s an opportunity you should have taken.”
But, did he feel he grounded the ball?
“I reckon there’s a bit of grass there I surely grounded the ball on. I knew you were going to ask that question. Yeah, I think if I look back on it this morning, if I’d have just sat and put the ball down between my legs, but that’s hindsight. It’s so quick on the pitch, you just want to get the ball on the floor but yeah, I’d say that was a 50-50.”
He was aware that Rob Herring had switched inside.
“I saw Rob but I don’t know what’s going on behind me so I don’t know if there’s another guy who can intercept the pass or maybe hit him and I go down and he goes down. If I look back I know Jordi and Bundee were there. It’s tough but I didn’t know that at the time. So in my head, the momentum will carry me over but if I go down Rob’s there to clean up with the ball after.”
However, Stander maintained “one thing I’ve learned from my dad” is that if he reflects too long on mistakes “it’s going to drag you down. It’s great to look back at them, have those pictures in your head and learn from them. I’ve learned from them already but I can’t take that into this week because I need to push lads around me to train better, and hopefully if I get in that same position then I’ll know what I’m going to do.”
David Pocock’s performance at the breakdown did much to stymie Ireland’s famed recycling, and according to Stander, there’s only one way to reduce the threat of the Wallabies backrower.
“Just beat him to the breakdown. He’s someone who’s so quick on the ball. He’s got a low centre of gravity. He’s perfectly built to be a poacher and he showed that in the game.
“He’s locked onto the ball every time – you saw it at the weekend. If he’s on the ball, he’s going to get the penalty so you need to make sure you beat them to the ball and if you don’t, make sure you go in as hard as you can.”
Bundee Aki was the one Irish player to get a good shot on Pocock in thoroughly clearing him off the ball.
“Yeah, he did,” said Stander. “I think he knows him, played against him a few times before, so he knew what to do.”
After another light day yesterday, encompassing just a pool session and video reviews, maybe Aki will be giving demonstrations in training tomorrow and Thursday, with one player nominated to wear Pocock’s distinctive scrum cap as Leinster did in targeting Tadhg Beirne’s effectiveness at the breakdown before their European Champions Cup semi-final filleting of the Scarlets.
Ironically, the uncapped Beirne will most likely feature and thus be one of those seeking to curtail Pocock’s influence next Saturday.
Keith Earls is Ireland’s only injury concern in the 32-man squad prior to Saturday’s second Ttest, as he observes the Return to Play protocols.