IRUPA Player of the Year CJ Stander expects to be a marked man ahead of South Africa series

The 26-year-old made his Ireland debut in the Six Nations this year

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Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

CJ Stander, the Munster and Ireland star was named as the Zurich IRUPA Players’ Player of the Year on Monday night at a ceremony in Dublin.

It is the first time Stander has won the award, and the 26-year-old was surprised to win. “You’re going up against Robbie Henshaw who has been Young Player of the Year for three years in a row. You’re going up then against your captain (Rory Best) and also Jack McGrath. I thought it would be between Jack and Robbie, I voted for both,” Stander told Newstalk.

The Munster star was humbled to receive the award, as it came from his peers and the news was met with delight when he rang his family in the Western Cape. “It means more because you work with them and play with. Personally to get this award is unbelievable. It’s a massive honour. I told my family and I think mother’s still crying. They know how tough it’s been.”

Stander arrived from South Africa with his then-fiance and now-wife Jean-Marie in 2012. He admitted that winning the the award made the transition to Ireland worthwhile. “From a family point of view, you can imagine we left our homes and families behind. We came over here having no idea what was to happen in the future.”

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

After making his international debut to general acclaim, Stander has called the last few months as a “roller-coaster season” with Munster struggling all year. He will be one of the few players in the squad that has experience of the new Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, before the South African begins life in Limerick.

“He was the technical advisor when I was there (in South Africa). I worked with him for a week or two. He’s a good coach. He knows what he wants to do. We are looking forward to it down in Munster. I think it’s going to be something different and something that’s needed.”

Despite only making his debut for Ireland in the Six Nations, Stander was one of the more impressive players in the team. His next game in green should come in familiar surrounds as he and the side face his native South Africa next month in a three-test series.

“It will be a big honour and privilege to play on front of my family and supporters. I played with a lot of the boys when I was in South Africa and there will probably be a mark on me because I know the language. It comes with the game.”

“It’s going to be a tough three matches. They want to prove something and I think we want to prove something also. It’s going to be a great opportunity for us as a team.”

Whether or not Stander has a bulls-eye on his back, the first test and first collision in Cape Town on June 11th will be worth the wait.