Tuesday 25 September 2018

Stander will use the memory of Van der Westhuizen to drive him on

Cj Stander
Cj Stander

It has been the best of times for CJ Stander and the worst of times.

The Ireland flanker has been irrepressible for Munster and, for the most part, Ireland this season.

Meanwhile, the terrible pall of tragedy hangs over his head too.

The passing of Anthony Foley had a deeply profound effect on the deeply emotional Munster talisman.

Now, Stander has had to take in the death of South African all-time great Joost van der Westhuizen.

The legendary scrum-half lost his drawn-out battle with motor neurone disease in Johannesburg hospital on Monday.

The 45-year-old former Springbok was the original ninth forward for his physique and willingness to engage in trench warfare.

Stander and VdW shared a love for the confrontational side of the game.

It comes as no surprise to hear of Stander's awestruck reverence for the man known simply as 'Joost'.

"He was really the first guy I looked up to when I was a youngster. He was an unbelievable player, an unbelievable human being," said Stander.

Van der Westhuizen was also there when Stander made his professional debut for the Blues Bulls.

"For my first professional start with the Bulls, he gave me my jersey, so I've got a bit of a connection with him," he added.

"Everyone knew the time was coming, but I think he's in a better place. He's going to be missed."

As a player, Stander was attracted to Van der Westhuizen's physicality in combating bigger men.

He blazed a trail as an unconventionally tall scrum-half for the likes of Wales' Mike Phillips and Ireland's Conor Murray.

Stander left his homeland all because he was told he would never be a Springbok because he was simply too small.

He saw in Van der Westhuizen a man who would never back down on the field or take no for an answer when it came to meeting challenges head-on.

This was never better illustrated than in the 1995 World Cup final when South Africa overcame the All Blacks in front of Nelson Mandela.

There was more than once when all that stood between Jonah Lomu and the whitewash was Van der Westhuizen's stubborn streak.

"I think it was one of my first memories you know.

"Just to put your head down, it doesn't matter what size you are, who you are, what you are. Just put your head down and stop those big guys and that's something I remember from him," said Stander.

Stander will put his head down and work like never before to make sure Ireland overcome Italy in Rome.

He will pay respect to his childhood hero by playing it the way Joost would have - hard and fair.

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