Paris win brings Stander from darkness into light

Ireland number eight admits going into a ‘deep, dark place’ during dramatic endgame

CJ Stander: “We’ve been in situations before and we learned out of that to take it into the game like this.” Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.

CJ Stander: “We’ve been in situations before and we learned out of that to take it into the game like this.” Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.

 

The Irish pack went into a dark place in the final moments of their game against France on Saturday in the opening Six Nations Championship match in Paris.

CJ Stander, who took the last carry into contact before scrumhalf Conor Murray released it back to Johnny Sexton for the winning drop goal, said belief got the team through those tense minutes.

“After the seventh or eighth phase you just switch off and go into a deep, dark place where all of us have been before in training,” said the Ireland number eight.

“So you just keep pushing until something happens. It happened in our favour. As forwards, our perspective is to keep working hard and the backs will do some magic. You just go to a dark place.”

Stander added that nobody wanted to be the one to cough up the ball to France throughout the 41 phases and give them the chance to close out the first game of the championship with a win.

“I think during that 41 phases, we won a lot of those battles that we didn’t win earlier in the game. A lot of boys stood up and did individual jobs well,” he explained.

“As an individual player, it’s quite stressful to get the ball and look after it because you don’t want to be that guy who makes the mistake because everyone has that belief. In fairness, everyone had that belief that we can do this. We’ve been in situations before and we learned out of that to take it into the game like this. For a guy to have the guts like that to step up and take a drop goal is impressive.”

Joe Schmidt and his team now turn towards the first home game a man down and without the services of Josh van der Flier, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a serious knee injury.

It is a tough blow for the 24-year-old former Wesley College pupil, who has made eye-catching contributions since his breakthrough from Leinster on to the Ireland team in 2016.

Stander believes Ireland will miss the young flanker but that in Dan Leavy, Jack Conan and Jordi Murphy there is ample depth going into the match against Italy. It was Leavy who came in for van der Flier in the first half of the game.

“I think massive,” said Stander about the loss of van der Flier. “He’s a tough player, a physical player, he always pitches up, not just in games but in training, he lifts the energy of the whole squad and he’s been around the players since coming in as a young fella and impressed all of us.

“At this level now, he’s playing well week in, week out, especially in the back row, he’s going to be a big loss. There is a lot of guys pushing for a jersey there, he’s going to be missed. Hopefully he gets sorted quite quick.”

There was some positive news with Munster prop Dave Kilcoyne returning to fitness and the squad to boost Schmidt’s frontrow options. However, Munster’s Andrew Conway remains sidelined with a knee injury, while Jack O’Donoghue and Barry Daly will train with the Irish squad during the early part of this week.

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