"It was rock bottom... I was going to pack my bags and start farming" - CJ Stander 3 months ago

"It was rock bottom... I was going to pack my bags and start farming" - CJ Stander

"When you get shot down so many times, you reach rock bottom."

Given his current trajectory, and importance to both Munster and Ireland, CJ Stander will soon reach 200 games (combined) for his province and his adopted country.

While that landmark achievement would not have surprised most Irish rugby fans that witnessed him in action during his first season with Munster, it did not always look likely that Stander would make the grade in the pro game. He was part of the South African U18 and U20 teams but found other players leap-frogging him when it came to Super Rugby and Springbok selection.

A month after he turned 22, in May 2012, he was called in to train with the Springboks but did not make the final cut after being told that - at 6' 1" and just over 16-stone - he did not have the size or stature to make it at Test level.

On the latest episode of House of Rugby Ireland (below), Stander told host Eimear Considine about that "rock bottom" moment in rugby career, how he nearly gave up and how Munster offered him a new start.

Munster & Ireland player, and Tackle Your Feelings ambassador, CJ Stander, was on hand to announce the Tackle Your Feelings Pro app add-on. It is part of the #ImTakingControl campaign, which encourages people to ‘Take Control’ of their mental wellbeing using principles from both sport and positive psychology.

Stander says that, after being told on more than one occasion that he did not have the size to make it to the top level in South Africa, he had some 'difficult conversations' with his girlfriend (and now wife), Jean-Marie, and his father.

"We decided, 'This it it. I'm going to pack my bags and start farming. Happy days'. That was probably the new direction I needed.

"But I'm actually glad, looking back now, that I had that road-block in my career. That shaped me and made me sit down and ask myself what can I control and what's the right way to go at things. Looking back, it was just a small bump in the road but, at the time, it felt like a mountain.

"I was happy to learn from that situation because a lot of things occurred again in my career, after that, and that experience gave me all the right tools of how to deal with them, and to get out the other end with my head up."

Stander is now close to 150 senior appearances for Munster and on 44 Test caps with Ireland, having helped them to a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2018. He made the 2017 Lions Tour to New Zealand - playing in the Third Test - and he has gigantic motivation to make the next Lions squad as it is back in his native South Africa.

Having been to the mountain top, starting from the depths, Stander has some great advice for other players told, along the way, they are not going to make it. He says:

"Sometimes rugby is a sport where a few guys or, actually, one guy decides your future. It's not in your hands and it's sometimes difficult to control that situation. You're going to come to that wall or road-block, which is the easiest way for me to describe it.

"And you have to make sure that you have the right support structure around you, firstly, that you can get advice from and talk things over with, so you can get around this, and control the situation. Because there is always another direction you can go. You just have to have the right mind-set and the right people around you. They'll look out for you when you're telling the naysayers you're better than that."

Sound, sound advice from someone who has been on the brink yet doubled down, headed to Ireland and proved those doubters wrong.


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Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts. You can catch up on all our episodes from past seasons and interviews with Conrad Smith, Victor Matfield, Simon Zebo, Sean O'Brien, Drew Mitchell, Jean De Villiers, Finn Russell, Mike Brown, Brian O'Driscoll, Tana Umaga and much, much more.