South-Africa-born Ireland star chats to Off The Ball after winning IRUPA Player of the Year
CJ Stander says he intends to repay the faith shown in him as he becomes at home in an Ireland jersey.
The South Africa-born Munster back-row and Ireland international, who won the IRUPA Player of the Year and Supporters Player of the Year awards last night, described the recognition as a "massive honour" when he joined Off The Ball tonight.
The 26-year-old, who became eligible for Joe Schmidt's side before this year's Six Nations, caught the eye at the start of the Wales game when he sang the Irish anthem before a Man of the Match performance.
"With Amhrán na bhFiann, firstly I sat down, looked at the song in the English version and I saw it was the 'Soldier's Song' and it's something that I really enjoyed and that I liked. I think also it's an incredible song and something that's part of Ireland," he said.
"As I said, the supporters have always been positive and always been great about me, always pushing me on and I just thought to myself, I need to show them that I really want to enjoy their culture and embrace it. I just sat down and put on a few YouTube clips from a guy who sang it and my wife tried to teach me a few words and Donnacha Ryan taught me the right words and I just belted it out. I can't speak Gaelic but I can sing Amhrán na bhFiann."
Stander, who says uisce is the only word he does know, also spoke about the process of considering playing for Ireland as an option.
"My first season I didn't really play a lot. I started four or five games, mostly on the bench, then when I came back that second year, played a few games, started starting regularly, then people started talking and halfway through that season, I thought 'yeah, if I'm good enough and I get selected, I'll put my hand up' and that's the time it happened," he said, adding that part of his intention is to repay the help he has received since moving to Munster.
CJ Stander ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
"On a personal level, I arrived at Munster and in Ireland as an average rugby player. I could play the game and then they put a lot of time and money and coaches into me and turned me into the player that I am now at this stage.
"The registration rules allow you to play after three years and I feel strong about that, that I wanted to give something back to them. If I'm good enough to get into that jersey and play to show what I can give to them."
He also spoke about some of the criticism international rugby's eligibility rules get.
"You can't keep everyone happy. There's going to be people unhappy and you've got younger guys growing up in the country from youngsters playing the game that want to play for the Irish jersey and now you, especially a foreigner, comes in and then takes a place. That will be a topic for always but I think as long as you're good enough, you work hard and you're proud to play for the country, I don't think there's a problem."