'Shocked. Didn't see it coming': How Ireland skipper Sexton reacted when told CJ Stander is quitting
Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton has admitted he was left stunned on Monday when he was called into a meeting with Andy Farrell and learned about the shock decision by CJ Stander to retire from playing at the end of the season just months after his 31st birthday in early April.
South African Stander made the 50th Ireland appearance for his adopted country in last Sunday’s win over Scotland and was expected to come to a central contract extension with the IRFU. However, having become a new father in the past year, he has decided to walk away from rugby and instead head home to South Africa where his family are in the farming business.
“Shocked. Didn’t see it coming,” said Sexton when asked for his reaction to the Tuesday morning announcement that this coming Saturday’s game versus England will be the last time Stander will play for Ireland.
“They called me into a meeting yesterday morning, him, Andy. It was the last thing I thought I was getting called in for. Literally, if you gave me a thousand things to guess, it wouldn’t have even registered on it.
“But he has done things for the right reason. His wife and daughter are back in South Africa at the moment. They have been there for a few months and they went back for the last lockdown as well.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 16, 2021
“It takes its toll and he has just taken the decision based on family reasons and we respect him for that but he is a big loss to Munster and Irish rugby. He has been huge for both teams over the last five, six years. Yeah, very shocked but we wish him well and we hope that his last game in green will be one to remember.”
While the 2021 Guinness Six Nations finale versus England will be Stander’s final Ireland cap, he will hope to bow out with provincial honours in the weeks ahead as Munster face Leinster in the PRO14 final on March 27 before hosting Toulouse the following weekend in the Heineken Champions Cup round of 16.
He will then hope – selection and scheduling permitting – that the curtain falls on his career with Lions tour selection versus the Springboks having been involved in the previous series versus the All Blacks in 2017.
“He is a great person first and foremost,” continued Sexton. “You can’t be a great teammate without being a good lad, very popular in the group. And then just his work ethic. I can’t ever remember him missing a game. Maybe through suspension after his red card against South Africa (in 2016) but in terms of being injured, I can’t remember him missing a game.
“Just relentless attitude, his preparation, how tough he was. I played against him numerous times, I have been on the receiving end of a few carries and he has got the utmost respect of anyone who has played with or against him.
“Ultimately when you finish up that is what you want really. As a player, you want to win things but the older you get the more you realise you just want your own teammates to respect you and then for the opposition to think he is a good player. I am pretty sure he has achieved that.”
Asked about the early-week timing of the Stander revelation, Sexton said: “In fairness to CJ that is why he wanted to announce it early. He wanted to get it out of the way because he is a team guy and he wanted then to just concentrate on his performance.
“But at the same time, he wanted to do it the right way and announce it before his last game rather than just walking away. That was the right thing to do. Like I said, he will be a big loss. He has contributed so much over the number of years he has been here and we wish him well. It’s for the right reasons.”
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— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 16, 2021
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