Some of the stuff said about CJ Stander this week would wilt your spirit 5 months ago

Some of the stuff said about CJ Stander this week would wilt your spirit

"I would love to see kids from this area come through and make it in rugby."

CJ Stander has never made it a secret that he would return to his home-town of George in South Africa. The big surprise is that he is doing so after saying no to one last big contract offer from the IRFU.

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The offer, like those to all of his Ireland teammates, was not as hefty as he would have liked but there were other issues that ultimately saw him announce, on Tuesday, that he is retiring from all forms of the game after this season concludes.

Stander turns 31 in three weeks' time but, such is his importance to Munster and Ireland, he would have been one of the top earners on the union's books. The fact that he has opted to head back to South Africa now gives both Munster and Ireland a dilemma. The easy way out, for the IRFU, would be to sit on that potential salary outgoing but Munster could now press for the likes of Tadhg Beirne or Dave Kilcoyne to get centrally contracted.

While much of the comments and stories over the past week have been of a positive nature, there have been two drums beaten upon that I feel need addressing. Let's deal with them here:

Don't be surprised if he ends up playing for a South African team in a year's time

So what? So flipping what?!

I must have missed the part where CJ Stander was dipped in a tricolour vat and made 100% guaranteed Irish. I missed the part where Ireland officially owned CJ Stander and got to choose his next moves, even when he was out of contract.

We all knew, when he arrived from South Africa in October 2012, until today that Stander is a proud South African. The IRFU certainly knew it, but that did not stop them gaming the World Rugby residency rules system.

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Stander knew the story too. He had been told be the Springboks that he did not have the required size to make it at Test rugby. He was also dealing with the quota system, back home, that was trying to deal with years upon years of talented black players not getting proper international rugby representation.

CJ Stander and Munster head coach Johann van Graan celebrate after a Champions Cup win over Toulon in 2018. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

Ireland would be his route into Test rugby, he knew, so he hopped on his very first flights and landed in Cork with one goal in mind. The IRFU had spotted a top prospect on the outside, looking in, and acted quickly. They also did so with the likes of Quinn Roux, Danie Poolman, Tyler Bleyendaal, Rodney Ah You, Jake Heenan, Bundee Aki, Max Sorenson and more.

As you may garner from those names (above), not every 'Project Player' made it to Test rugby.

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Stander has been lauded since his arrival, and again these last few days, because he has played over 200 times for Munster and Ireland since his arrival, won more than 30 man-of-the-match awards, helped the Irish national team to a Grand Slam and played a big part in Munster reaching three league finals. Whatever the price was, Stander has paid in full and left a hefty tip.

So you read and hear comments about him playing us all for fools and heading back to South Africa to recharge his batteries for a few months before surfacing for the Bulls in 2022. All part of a cunning plan.

Personally, I hope he is retiring this summer and putting an end to that punishing daily grind at the age of 31. Going out in his prime and focusing on being a husband, father, farmer and coach. As he told the George Herald during this first Irish lockdown - when he went home - last April:

"I'm on 42 (Test caps) now. Hopefully if I can get to 50, that would be great. But it's not in my hands. There's a lot of youngsters coming through in that position."

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He will hang the No.6 jersey in the Ireland dressing room, this evening, and that will be that. Ireland will miss everything he brings - and he brings a LOT - but the likes of Gavin Coombes, Will Connors, Caelan Doris, Ryan Baird, Tadhg Beirne and a fit again Dan Leavy would all have been eyeing his place anyway.

That being said, if he does return home and get the itch for high level rugby again, play away. You would hope that people would have development some more empathy, this past 14 months, and allowed people to pursue the path that makes them happiest.

If the IRFU knew he was retiring, why not drop him?

This balloon has been floated in the past few days, but you have to see if from Andy Farrell and the IRFU's perspective.

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Ireland went into this championship in good shape to challenge for their second title in three years. Tadhg Furlong, James Lowe, Dave Kilcoyne and Jordan Larmour were back fit and Ireland could now select a strong 23, which they could not do in late 2020.

They had home games against France and England and could set themselves up for a title run by beating a questionable Welsh side in Cardiff. Stander had informed Farrell and the IRFU that he would be retiring before the championship started so they had a choice to make.

CJ Stander CJ Stander during the Ireland Rugby captain's run at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

We are not out of this Covid-19 pandemic yet, and its' after-effects will be felt for years yet. The union has lost a shed-load of money and the Six Nations represents the best opportunity to boost the coffers.

Every position higher you finish in the Six Nations, the better it works out for each union, to the tune of €500,000. So, finishing second instead of third would effectively cover the wages of two or three of your top players.

Some [including former Ireland winger Luke Fitzgerald] have asked why Farrell did not cut Stander loose and 'blood' another back-row. This goes against the logic of actually trying to win rugby games by picking your best players.

Stander has been blooded for the past five years, at Test level, and Ireland were first gunning for the championship and then - when that imploded after two losses - trying to finish as high up the table as possible. Taking him out of the team would have made as much sense as dropping Brian O'Driscoll [Six Nations in 2014] and Paul O'Connell [World Cup in 2015] even when you knew they were both playing their final tournaments.

Ireland will not be touring the Pacific Islands this summer and no summer Test matches have been confirmed. There is a likelihood that Farrell won't get his players back together again until November of this year. There will be plenty of time, in the interim, for the new back row candidates to stake claims.

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The majority of us expected Stander to get one more IRFU contract and stay on until the next World Cup, at least.

It is right and proper for journalists and pundits to examine his decision to retire - we are not in the PR game, after all - but there talk about dropping a world-class talent like Stander is as nonsensical as those comments questioning his future moves in the game.

As the man himself said, he would love to go back to George on the Western Cape and put his energies into finding more rugby players to represent the area on a national and international stage.

The best Project Player to wear a green jersey will no doubt find a gem or two. Then the tug-of-war can begin all over again!