South Africa-born back-rower CJ Stander has admitted NatWest 6 Nations champions Ireland’s Grand Slam bid against England is now the biggest game of his career.
The Munster loose forward insisted he appreciates the significance of helping Ireland chase just a third Six Nations clean sweep, especially on St Patrick’s Day and at Twickenham.
Ireland claimed a record 11th consecutive win with Saturday’s 28-8 victory over Scotland, and that proved enough to swipe the title a week early as England lost 22-16 to France in Paris.
Former South Africa Under-20s star Stander swapped Super Rugby’s Blue Bulls for Munster in 2012 after Springboks coaches told him he was too small to be a Test-match flanker.
Six years on he has a British and Irish Lions cap, helped Ireland claim a maiden win over New Zealand – and now has the chance to drive Joe Schmidt’s men to a first Grand Slam since 2009. Asked if the Twickenham showdown is now the biggest game of his career, Stander replied: “Yes, for sure; there’s an opportunity to create something for ourselves as a group.
“Some of us, it’s their first Six Nations, some of us have been here for a few years.
“Preparation wise, put the head down, make sure you train well and get into the team for Saturday.
“It’s a great opportunity. You set goals for yourself at the beginning of the year and on a personal level you strive to be part of that.”
The latest win came as Jacob Stockdale became the first Irishman to claim six tries in a single Five or Six Nations competition with a brace against the Scots. Conor Murray and Sean Cronin sealed Ireland’s third bonus-point win in their four clashes to date.
Scotland captain John Barclay admitted his side botched a hatful of scoring chances, which proved definitive on the day.
“I don’t want to say you get what you deserve in rugby; the scoreline didn’t reflect the chances in the game,” said Barclay. “But they took all their chances whereas we probably had four two-on-one chances and we took none of them. That’s the difference today.”