Proudfoot expecting Stander’s last stand to inspire Ireland

England forwards coach pays tribute to his fellow South African’s impact with Ireland and Munster

Matt Proudfoot: “I’m sure they’ll want to close his chapter on the right note. We can expect a highly motivated Irish team really looking to come at us.”  Photograph: Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

Matt Proudfoot: “I’m sure they’ll want to close his chapter on the right note. We can expect a highly motivated Irish team really looking to come at us.” Photograph: Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

 

Last time we encountered Matt Proudfoot he was sitting beside Damien de Allende in Tokyo Disneyland.

So much has transpired since the Springboks’ all-conquering 2019 campaign with a once-in-a-lifetime financial opportunity sending Proudfoot to coach an England pack his South African eight had just destroyed in the World Cup final, while Munster are benefitting from their investment in De Allende, one of the game’s premier inside centres.

Irish rugby and especially Munster people were shocked this week when CJ Stander announced his retirement from “all forms of rugby,” ideally bringing his international cap total to 56 during the Lions Test series against the Springboks and possibly Japan this summer.

Proudfoot, who hails from Klerksdrop in South Africa’s north west province, relates to Stander more than most as the 49-year-old played tighthead prop for Scotland on four occasions between 1998 and 2003.

“Like myself, he made a decision for his life and it took him on an incredible adventure,” said Proudfoot. “He was loyal to that adventure and for that I congratulate him on an incredible career.”

Stander’s decision to retire aged 31 – saying his commitment to rugby was taking an “unfair toll” on his family coupled with a desire to raise his daughter in South Africa – was not flagged in an interview with the George Herald in April 2020. In fact, he stated he hoped to keep playing the sport on his return home.

“For sure [I am returning to South Africa] – I just realised in the last few weeks that I love farming,” said Stander during the first lockdown. “I can still play a lot of games hopefully. I think there is a lot of knowledge I can give back to the game. I would love to see where that path takes me, whether that is into coaching or not.”

Stander also suggested last year that a half century of caps for Ireland might be enough.

“I am on 42 now,” he said. “Hopefully, if I can get to 50, that would be great. That is not in my hands. There are a lot of youngsters coming through in the position, but I am looking forward to a good contest going forward.”

That contest ends this weekend with both Munster captain Peter O’Mahony and Ireland captain Johnny Sexton caught completely unawares by Stander’s decision to quit at the peak of his powers.

Family reasons

“Every person makes that decision in their life,” said Proudfoot.

“If you read his statement, he’d thought it through, he’s taken a lot of things into account and he’s very, very grateful for the experience of being part of a generation of a highly successful Irish and Munster teams. That’s really reflective of the type of human being he is, giving everything he’s got to his province and his team.

“I was a little bit different so I couldn’t relate to that decision. I was young, I was single and on my own [when he moved to Edinburgh]. Family reasons are very powerful reasons, very powerful motivators for people.

“No, I am not surprised. I think the world is in a very tough place and the things that motivate you in life, your reasons why, are very important and you need to take care of them.

“He spoke about his whys for playing the game and being the best he could be, and his family. When those two come into conflict it must be a tough place to be as a player, having to pick between the two things you care the most about in the world.”

Proudfoot agreed that Stander’s imminent departure from Limerick will galvanise Ireland this weekend at the Aviva Stadium in the final round of the Six Nations.

“Absolutely. He’s been a talisman for their pack and team for a long, long time. He plays with his heart on his sleeve. He’s a tough, tough competitor, a tough man.

“I’m sure they’ll want to close his chapter on the right note. We can expect a highly motivated Irish team really looking to come at us. We need to confront that and get ourselves on the front foot.”

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