There was a massive public interest in CJ Stander's Irish debut last weekend. The newest Munster ligind was finally making his first appearance in green, and the backrower did not disappoint. 23 carries and 11 tackles in his first 80 minutes representing a great outing.
But it wasn't just the Irish public who were tuning in to watch Stander. The South African public looked on with interest at their former U-20 captain. We caught up with Judge Rugby, a South African blogger who pays attention to a lot of the European based South Africans about what he thought about CJ Stander's international debut, how he's viewed in South Africa, and the project player system.
According to Judge, South Africans were never in doubt about Stander's ability, but they were impressed with his international debut.
I always want our boys to do well, every time. It is good to see guys performing and flying the SA flag even if it is next to another one. I thought Stander's international debut was excellent. He is a class player but we all knew that back here. CJ was class back here and always going to be a Bok.
There may be some Irish folks here who feel like we should be relying on our own production line rather than "rejects" from other countries, but speaking to Judge, Stander was never a 'reject' in South Africa. The captain of the South African U-20 team that featured Springboks Pat Lambie, Siya Kolisi, and Elton Jantjies that finished third (losing to the Tyler Bleyendaal lead New Zealand U-20s).
We're experiencing the loss of some of our players to England and France, which is something that South Africans have been dealing with for much longer. Unlike us though, a large number of South African players have started playing their international rugby for other countries - like Rory Kockott for France, Josh Strauss for Wales, or Richardt Strauss for Ireland. As depressed as Ireland fans could be about losing Ian Madigan and Marty Moore, South African fans are just happy their production line is producing so many good players - even if it isn't paying off for South Africa:
Sadly the economical and political landscape often makes the decision to leave our shores easier. Don't get me wrong, I would prefer to have the guys available for the Boks to keep the great Green & Gold train moving on but you can't always have what you want.
So why didn't it work out for Stander in South Africa? The story goes that now ex South Africa coach told the 6'2'' Stander that he would be too small to play international rugby as he continued to place a premium on size. That's why the talents of Cheslin Kolbe and Heinrich Brussouw aren't international regulars. It was seen as one man's preference for size over skill, and wasn't an overly popular decision with the rest of the South Africans. In that sense, it makes even more sense for Stander to want to leave.
I knew that he would go and probably not come back and we all knew he probably would play for Ireland too. I was bummed when he left because regardless how many good players you have having the best is so important and competition makes people better.
Let's imagine for a second that Stander hadn't left. That Heineke Meye hadn't donated a serious gem to Irish rugby. Where would Stander's career be now?
I would like to think South African coaches would have been able to mould and coach him into the class player he is today too but very often you see players going overseas and turning out better than when they were here. This for me is down to the fact that coaches overseas often coach the players skillset instead of taking a good player and making him play an unsuitable game plan - Square peg round hole. Often if a player does not fit into a coaches one dimensional plan he is discarded. Had he stayed in SA and fit he would be a Springbok and possibly competing for captaincy now. I am sure it would have been a tough journey but he is class.
After the amount of times Stander has carried Munster on his back - captaincy might suit him.
Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE