Who is CJ Stander?

(c) Blue Bulls.

Munster look to have pulled off quite a coup by securing CJ Stander on a two-year deal. Judging by the reaction of coaches and fans alike in South Africa, there appears to be genuine surprise that the 22-year-old has decided to move abroad. A former South Africa Schools and U2o captain, Stander had been marked out as a likely senior Springbok in the near future. The viewpoint there is that money may have played a part in the back-rower’s decision. So what exactly have Munster got for their presumably big bucks?

Stander’s swift physical development meant he was marked out as a distinct prospect from an early age. At 17, he was already representing the South Western Districts Eagles U18 side at the annual Craven Week. This tournament is one of the most prestigious schoolboy events in world rugby. It’s played out over a week, usually in July (this year’s version starts next weekend), and is quite often the stage on which future Springboks announce themselves. Despite being a year younger than his rivals, Stander’s displays earned him the captaincy of the South African Schools Academy team in 2007 (The Academy side is basically the Schools ‘B’ team, although political factors play a part in some selections).

Another impressive Craven Week the following year saw the No.8 named captain of the 2008 South African Schools team, a side which included current ‘Bok Patrick Lambie. That summer, Stander graduated from school and the Pretoria-based Blue Bulls swept to sign him. The possibility of playing Super Rugby down the line enticed the young back-row away from the SWD Eagles in his hometown of George. Back in 2008, the new Southern Kings franchise was a mere idea, meaning the highest level Stander could have played with the Eagles was Currie Cup. (From 2013, the Eagles will act as a feeder side to the Kings).

Deon Stegmann and CJ Stander take a break.

Stander (left) is a big youngfella! (c) Getty.

The meteoric rise continued in 2009 as Stander was selected in the South Africa U20 squad for the Junior World Championships, despite being a year young for the age-group. He started all 5 games at No.8, scoring 2 tries, as the Baby Boks finished 3rd. He was back in the squad the following year too, this time as captain. Again, Stander started all 5 games in the 8 jersey, scoring once, as the South Africans earned another 3rd place finish.

Stander returned home to play 12 times for the Bulls in the 2010 Currie Cup. This tournament is the South African equivalent of the PRO12 or ITM Cup, one step below Super Rugby. Stander started 5 times, but interestingly only wore the No.8 jersey once, with Gerrit-Jan van Velze preferred there. Instead, Stander mainly appeared at blindside (the number 7 jersey in SA), a move we have seen plenty of this season. The Bulls managed to reach the semi-finals, before losing to the Sharks.

Turning 21 in 2011 meant that Stander’s international age-grade days were over and his focus switched entirely to the Bulls. The year started well as Stander made 11 appearances, including 5 starts at No.8, in the Bulls’ run to the Vodacom Cup final. This tournament is the third-tier of South African rugby, behind Super Rugby and the Currie Cup. It’s often used to accelerate young players’ development, and that’s certainly what it did for Stander. He scored 3 tries, making an impression with his work-rate and ball-carrying ability.

(c) SA Rugby.

Super Rugby didn’t follow that summer, but Stander went on to play a far more important part in that year’s Currie Cup campaign. He nailed down the starting berth at No.8 and played in all 14 of the Bulls’ games, 11 of them in the starting XV. He showed his try-scoring ability by crossing the whitewash 6 times from the base of the scrum. This form marked him out as a definite Super Rugby squad player for 2012. The back-rower’s 2011 season was topped off nicely when he helped the Bulls U21 side to win the ABSA U21 Currie Cup, scoring a try in the final.

This year’s Super Rugby season started with Stander firmly a squad player. With gym-rat Pierre Spies the incumbent at No.8, Springbok Deon Stegmann at 6 and Jacques Potgieter (four year his senior) at 7, Stander had to make do with a bench spot for the first 2 games. However, a hamstring injury to Stegmann catapulted Stander into the starting team for round 3 and he has coped well at openside. He’s been an ever-present for the Bulls since, although he switched across to blindside in the 4 games leading up to the international break. 

His Super Rugby form led to a call-up to the 42-man Springboks training squad in the build-up to the test series against Wales. Another factor towards the call-up may have been the early murmurings that the 22-year-old was in discussions with Munster. By bringing him into the ‘Boks training group, coach Heyneke Meyer may have been trying to convince Stander to stay in South Africa. However, that might be a cynical suggestion on my part, as Stander has done well for the Bulls, scoring 4 tries in his 14 appearances up to now.

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I’ve only seen Stander in live action twice this season, against the Reds in round 4 and the Chiefs in round 14. Playing at openside against the Reds and blindside against the Chiefs, Stander played the full 80 minutes in both. He didn’t stand out in either game, but at the same time there was nothing to fault in his performances. The first thing that struck me was that Stander is physically well-developed for a 22-year-old. He’s 6’2″ in height, and while the Bulls’ site lists him as 106kg, he’s almost certainly heavier than that. He’s clearly a strong, powerful player, something which is highlighted by the fact that he consistently went in high in the tackle, never getting bounced off.

Watching both games, I immediately felt that Stander was a No.8 playing out of position. He looked slightly unsure of where he should be running, supporting, clearing out, etc. The occasions when he looked truly comfortable were when he got a little bit of time on the ball in space. He showed a few glimpses of soft hands too, but playing at flanker for the Bulls seems to limit that aspect of his game. Much of Stander’s involvement came around the fringes of rucks, and to be honest he didn’t seem overly keen to be stuck in there. When play broke up, he had a good awareness of where the space was.

Having played most of his underage rugby at No.8, Stander is still learning the two other back-row positions and will only become more effective. A recurring feature of both games I watched was his control at the back of the Bulls’ incredibly effective maul. He seemed intent on getting on the ball at the back, showcasing his No.8 instincts. Indeed, he managed to score a try against the Reds from this very position.  He also scored a replica of that try against the Rebels in round 11 (6.33 in the video above). In my opinion, all the signs are that Stander is a natural No.8.

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Stander’s try against the Brumbies in round 9 (2.53 above, definite Steyn knock-on!) showed just how much pace and power the youngster has. From my limited viewing, this is the kind of position Munster will need to use Stander in. Whenever he receives ball in wider channels with a little more time, he looks far more threatening. Playing at 6 and 7, he carried around the fringes more, and while he never went backwards, these carries are for the tight five. His pace would also make him effective off the base of the scrum with the defence 5 metres back.

Stander’s CV and the glimpses I’ve seen in this year’s Super Rugby lead me to believe that he will have an important impact for Munster, most probably at No.8. He’s contracted to the Bulls until the conclusion of the Currie Cup. The final takes place on the 27th of October, and the Bulls will fancy their chances of making the showpiece. It’s quite likely that Munster fans will be paying more attention than usual to the South African tournament as they hope to get a good look at their new signing!

*Has anyone seen Stander playing? If you have, leave a comment below with your thoughts. Do you think he’ll be a good signing? With the possibility of Stander returning to South Africa in two years’ time, should Munster even be making signings like this, possibly stunting the development of Irish players? All opinions and feedback welcome.

13 responses to “Who is CJ Stander?

  1. Great Blog Murray. Comments from my friends in South Africa are all positive about Stander. Ivan O’Riordan

    • Thanks Ivan! More good word about him from SA so, he seems to be really highly rated over there. Good news for Munster. Can’t wait till he gets over, a pity they couldn’t get him over after Super Rugby finishes.

  2. It’s a kick in the nads for Paddy Butler, at any rate. As I wrote on your talkingrugby article, Stander has been bought to remedy a deficiency in the front-row, i.e. its lack of ball-carriers. With Coughlan and O’Mahony as close and wide carriers respectively, and Butler as a real prospect at 8, there wasn’t any need for another bludgeon, except that the two Saffer props are too slow to offer anything in the loose. Irish rugby is not short of destructive flankers, but is short of props, so Munster are going to solidify the positions of two Saffer props in a time of front-row crisis by bringing in a flanker who won’t be available for 3 years (and may never be available) in a position where Ireland has unprecedented strength. Brilliant.

    • That’s an observant point about the lack of ball-carrying strength in our front row. Hopefully Sherry can help turn that around a bit.

      I’m surprised there hasn’t been a bit more negative reaction about the Stander deal. As you say, it’s a kick in the bollix for Butler, and a few others who will probably feature less in the big games now. I’d be massively surprised if Stander did end up turning out for Ireland. He’s captained his country at two levels, and is well rated in South Africa. I’m certain his ambition os to play for and captain the ‘Boks.

      There’s so many options in the back-row now. I wonder how much Penney had to do with this move? If he didn’t have much say in it, then I’d be hopeful that every one of the back-rows in the squad will start on a level playing field. I’m really hopeful that this will be Penney’s approach to the entire squad – an outsider coming in with no strong perceptions or pre-conceptions of the pecking order in each position.

      That said, if Stander’s on the big money, he’ll play no matter what!

  3. I think its the most cynical move I have ever seen from Munster. They filled up their quota of NIQ players with Laulala (who is a terrible buy and absolutly not needed) and suddenly realised they needed a good ball carrier. Stander (and no offence to him, its a smart move) gets a bag full of cash and Munster solve their problems.
    There is absolutly no way in hell this guy is a project player. There is no way in hell he would even consider declaring for Ireland when he has been MARKED DOWN by the pwoers that be as a future springbok. The guy wants the green and gold, not the green. And there is no way Munster will turn his head. Its an abuse of the rules to suit themselves. Now what will happene to Paddy Buter or Tommy O’Donnell? Two players who could (and should) have gotten more game time over this season and could add to our national team?
    I have no problem with NIQ recruitment, some of my favourit players (Isa, Rocky, Ruan) are NIQ’s. Nor do I have a problem with MUnster. Despite been a Leinster man I hold them in very high regard (they certainly gave my provence the kick we needed and I am thankful to them for that).
    But this is an abuse of the rules, plain and simple. They know he will never play for Ireland. They are using a loophole and I dont like it. Their recruitment policy has been utter tripe for so long, they shot themselves in the foot (again) and needed a back door. This is it.
    Shame on them.

    • Yeah that’s very fair Don. Completely agree with you that Stander will head back to SA when the two years are finished. As you say, he’s been marked out as a futur Bok, possibly even a captain with his leadership qualities. No way he’ll play for Ireland. As you say, it is an abuse of the project player rule and it’s not what the provinces should be using it for. There needs to be a clear indication from the player that he wants to play for Ireland, like Poolman at Connacht.

      You can criticise Munster and they obviously played a big part here, but the IRFU are the ones who have the final say. Leinster have also brought in a young South African on a short-term deal, with lots of chat that he’ll be heading straight back to SA afterwards, so in fairness I don’t think we need to bring this discussion to provincial lines. The IRFU have the final and definitive say on these moves, and they’re the ones who need to answer to it.

      If and when Stander, and possibly Roux, do return home, I’m sure the IRFU defence would be something along the lines of ‘We need to ensure that the provinces stay competitive at the top-level consistently and if NIQs help that then so be it’. They’ll say a more competitive Munster, or Leinster, means more revenue and thus more development of the game in Ireland. I’d see the other side of the coin though, that backing our own young players will develop the game far more!

    • Don- and anyone else for that matter! Even though stander may have been “marked out” as a futureb springbok, there are no intentions on his behalf to play in green & gold only! He’s only about 6th choice flanker in sa, and ireland being so loyal to him(believing in him) he will be loyal to them! Don’t rule out his playing for ireland after 2/3years AT ALL!

    • While I think that while your point is valid, all teams are doing it. With regard to scenical ploys, the most blatant I’ve seen from an Irish province is the brad Thorne signing. He was brought in to replace the supposedly injures Leo Cullen who miraculously was back within days of the announcement. Was he needed, no, did it do anything for toners development? No. Scenically ploy which gave Leinster that extra bit to win a hc, shame on them. Can’t believe more easn’t made of it. And don’t get me started on Michael bent

  4. I certainly dont mean to bring this discussion to provincial lines, but it is important to note Leinster have two free NIQ player slots open to them. Even if Rouz said ‘No I want to play for S.A but I really want to stay in Leinster’ (which, to a point, has absolutly happened with his talk of a gap year), they would be within thier allocation to do so, with room to spare. If Stander said the same, Munster would HAVE to release him.

  5. Anthony McLaughlin

    At the end he is a professional rugby player and earn his income from playing rugby. Why work for R1000 when you can earn R2000. If you want to pay peanuts you have to be happy with monkeys. Piere Spies yes A big bloak, whe need a new spark at nr 8, Spies is not doing it for me anynore. Why hang on to the old guys: Spies, Dewald, Stegman, Olivier, experience maybe I don’t know, we are losing a lot of young player to International clubs. We don’t pay and we don’t mix in young players in all unions in SA. Last year Terblance was stil playing for ther Sharks at age 37. I am sure there was youngster as good or even better than him. KEEP THE TEAMS FILLED WITH NEW BLOOD.

  6. thanks for the articles on stander and roux murray, great reads as always. i totally agree that it is the irfu who have dropped the ball here. somewhere along the chain between DK, the irfu and the provinces there is serious comunnication problems. after all deccie has said recently about irish players not getting the game time at provincial level they ok these two deals? seems off. between this and the NZ tour it has been a poor year from the irfu.

  7. I think the big thing with Stander is that Munster weren’t expecting Wallace and Leamy to retire so quickly and were left completely unprepared. With all respect O’Donnell is an AIL player and Butler completely unproven watch the last few matches of Munster’s season and see how the Ospreys and UIster destroyed the Munster backrow.
    Starting a back row with O’Donnel, Butler and say Coughlan is hardly the thing to instil fear into an opposition team. Munster had already signed their foreign quota. Stander is a overseas signing to fix a big hole in the back row put under the cover of the other scheme.
    The big shame is that the Munster set up could not convince Rhys Ruddock to sign. He would have been a potential Munster captain and a perfect foil to O’Mahony and Coughlan and his personality would have fitted in well in Munster as opposed to some other Leinster players.
    Instead the recruitment guys in Munster were shown up as the amateurs they are and had to go out and spend a load on Stander. In the mean time Ruddock (and also Dominc Ryan) warm the bench at Leinster. Jordi Murphy would also have been a good option.

  8. While Stander is highly rated in South African circles, there’s a tremendous amount of competition for the loose trio spots at the Boks.

    Spies, Potgieter*2, Stegmann, Burger, Kolisi, Vermuelen, Flo, Daniel, Coetzee, Alberts, Deysel, Kankowski, Brussow- the names are endless. You also have up and coming players like Carr and Stander’s teammate at the Bulls ( Arno Botha)

    Another point to be noted is that Stander’s engaged to Jean Marie Neethling ( the younger sister of SA swimmer Ryk), who’s also moving to Ireland with him. If her career settles down well, Stander might not want to go back to the Republic.

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