Rugby World Cup: Stander not letting Springboks enter thoughts just yet
Ireland likely on course to face South Africa in quarter-finals after win over Scotland
Ireland’s CJ Stander makes a break during the Rugby World Cup win over Scotland. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The heavyweight Springboks appear on the horizon. The narrative is unavoidable now. It’s all but confirmed with next Saturday’s expected victory over Japan in Shizuoka putting the October 20th quarter-final at Tokyo stadium up in lights.
South Africa have as much chance of being caught flush by Italy on October 4th as Ireland have of faltering against Samoa or Russia.
So, Ireland versus South Africa; the “light heavyweights” or “middleweights” even, attempting to somehow pound a heavyweight rugby nation into submission. Or just beat them on points. This is how Joe Schmidt worded the most significant game of his 10 years coaching in Ireland.
The Irish camp will attempt to ignore this impending fixture but Schmidt has began the psychological and tactical preparation. It’s for this very moment that the IRFU employed South Africans. It’s why CJ Stander arrived from Pretoria in 2012 and the six foot eight inch Jean Kleyn was selected the day he became qualified under the residency rule.
“My first game against them didn’t go well,” said Stander last week of the 2016 test victory in Cape Town when, understandably psyched-up to the gills, he slammed an aerial Patrick Lambie into unconsciousness to earn a straight red card.
“I think that’s a fair comment,” said Stander when informed of Schmidt’s boxing analogy. “You saw last night, big men and two good teams going at each other and you could see the energy around the stadium as well. People wanted to come out and watch that game.
“For us, we wanted to make sure we got over this hurdle today and we’ll move onto Japan in six days, makes sure we recover and make sure we can give ourselves opportunities to go up and play against teams like that.”
The question has to keep coming: how does it feel to face your native land, the jersey you once dreamed about wearing one day?
“I’ve played against them a few times now. It’s just another game. You have to pitch up ... they’re a formidable side, a good side. A lot of physicality, big men.”
Stander knows all about these big men from time spent in the Bull Blues squad, and he knows Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber and Felix Jones from Munster. He even captained the South Africa under-20s at the 2010 world championships.
“I know a lot of them and some of the coaches as well so, look, it’s something that I’m not looking at now. For me now, it’s about the next few weeks and the next few games and make sure I get back into the team.”
Despite defeat to the All Blacks in Saturday’s epic encounter, South Africa’s power game and the electricity of Cheslin Kolbe on the wing seems unquenchable.
Ireland will struggle to cope.
“I can’t wait.”
One month away.