herald

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Stander and Aki make indelible mark in green

CJ Stander scores Ireland’s second try
CJ Stander scores Ireland’s second try

CJ Stander is just about as Irish as you can get now.

The man who was told he wasn't big enough for South Africa was too big for England at Twickenham.

The natural leader topped off 15 tackles and 24 carries with a try that owed much to his intelligence in seeking out the butt of the post rather than the white of the line.

The difference in those inches was the distance that separated being hot on attack and burning England for seven points.

"Unbelievable," gushed Stander. "We, as a squad, worked hard, we put a lot on the line in the last few weeks.

"We came out, said, 'we've got 80 minutes to work for it' and we have something at the end of it."

For captain Rory Best and Rob Kearney it was their second Grand Slam, a remarkable feat.

For Stander, it was the first medal to hang from his neck, a shining reward for the decision taken to leave the Blue Bulls for Munster's Reds in 2012.

"For me, it's personal, it's the first senior win, there's one or two guys that have a Grand Slam before.

Proud

"I am very proud of the boys. It is unbelievable."

The 27-year-old was quick to move the point of praise towards the management.

"I knew there was something special this week, the way we trained and the way the coaches looked after us.

"We knew we would have a lot of energy coming into the game."

The intangible virtue of being able to channel all the emotion, the anticipation and the nervousness into something usable is an art in itself.

"There was a different feeling," Stander shared.

"There was a belief in the squad, I can tell you that.

"It shows what we can do as a squad and what we can do as a country."

There was what Stander did and there was the value Bundee Aki added. His part in Stander's try was played to perfection.

For all the world, when the centre took Tadhg Furlong's 'pulitzer pass,' the easier option would have been to find Garry Ringrose on his shoulder.

Aki veered slightly to the right, slowed and showed to pass in a way that sucked in two defenders.

Then he had the confidence to turn back to his left and whip away an arrow to the supporting Stander, who had the leg drive to make the line.

Sadly, Aki failed to make it to the final bell when his head made contact flush with Jonathan Joseph's hip in one of many wincing moments.

He recovered well enough to lead the Irish in a post-match huddle.

No doubt, Aki woke this morning to his regular Monday message from his father.

Even hard-to-please Hercules (yes that is his name) will admit 'the boy done good.'

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