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CJ Stander Explained How Paul O'Connell 'Saved His Career'

CJ Stander Explained How Paul O'Connell 'Saved His Career'
By PJ Browne

CJ Stander arrived to Munster in 2012 as a project player, told back home in South Africa that he was 'too small' to make in professional rugby.

Last weekend, the 25-year-old announced himself on the Six Nations scene with an impressive Man of the Match debut performance against Wales.

It may not have happened for Stander with Munster and Ireland had it not been for the encouragement of Paul O'Connell.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Stander explained how O'Connell, who retired during the week, 'saved his career'.

He saved my career for sure. After the first year at Munster it was tough but he came to me after every team announcement and just said ‘keep the faith lad, keep the faith’.

I’d be close to almost crying and he’d come up to me, this mountain of a man, Paul O’Connell. He doesn’t have to talk to me, he’s the captain of Ireland and he can just go on and do his own stuff.

But that’s the type of man he is. It’s never about him, always about the team. He’d come to me and say ‘listen here, keep the faith’.

I’d be at the back of the bus in the corner and he’s in the middle and they’re joking and listening to what he has to say. For me, from South Africa, thinking I would play alongside a guy like that, I can’t put that into words.

O'Connell's interest in Stander from the beginning surprised the former Blue Bulls player.

He taught me a lot and all the praise he got, that’s exactly the type of man he is.

When I first met him, straight away he was talking about me and the farm in South Africa, my family; he even remembered my wife’s name. I was like ‘how does he even know that?

There's another thing which Paul O'Connell gave to Irish rugby - the encouragement which saw a young player, who will hopefully be part of the Ireland backrow for years to come, develop into a real force.

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