Former Springbok prop BJ Botha says retiring CJ Stander was a special player who will always be remembered for his impact in Ireland, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Back in March, Stander surprised many when he announced that he will be retiring from all professional rugby at the end of the current season.
Citing family reasons as the driver behind the decision, the 30-year-old confirmed he is calling time on his rugby career after reaching significant milestones in the respective green and red jerseys.
Stander made his 50th appearance for Ireland against Scotland in the recently concluded Six Nations, while he reached 150 caps for Munster when running out against Leinster at the end of January.
Botha, who had joined Munster just the year before Stander’s arrival, tells SA Rugby magazine that he clearly remembers his fellow South African turning up on his first day.
‘CJ’s rugby CV spoke for itself – he’d played for South Africa throughout his provincial age groups and was kind of looking for this opportunity to take the next step.
‘Everyone was hugely excited and obviously the expectation was high, but we knew there was a road that needed to be travelled, coming over into a new environment, coming from an Afrikaans background, not used to speaking English let alone Irish English, getting used to the accents and so on.
‘So, it was challenging, but CJ found time to adjust to that and threw himself right into the culture at Munster, and really became the best version of himself.
‘In those early days he found a way of playing some of his A games and really committed himself. He knew that what he put in, what he did on the field, would overflow into the rest of his life: an “actions speak louder than words” kind of thing, and I think that’s really what CJ brought with him.’
Botha says Stander won respect on the field by ‘putting himself into places not many other guys would go’, while off the field he was approachable and clear-minded in embracing a new way of life and career at Ireland and Munster.
As time went by, Stander served out the qualification period to play for his adopted country and was warmly embraced by the Irish as one of their own. At Munster, his loyalty and consistency also enamoured him to the passionate supporters base in Limerick.
‘CJ led from the front, and if anyone was going to take the ball and make a big carry it was him,’ Botha reflects. ‘He also led off the field, and in his preparation leading up to a game, and I think as the years went on, that aspect matured and got better. He is a natural leader, and whatever came across in the heat of the moment, it was always the right word at the right time.
‘If he had to say something to a player, or pick him up off the ground, the way CJ did, it provided an energy that people fed off. CJ could always change a game with one of his groundbreaking poaches or one of his ravishing runs down the field.
‘So, yeah, CJ was a game changer and a consistent performer. That is one of the main things at the highest level, consistency, but he was on another level: a true professional.’