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‘Axel was there’ – CJ Stander reflects on historic first win against the All Blacks

CJ Stander Anthony Foley

‘Axel was there. He was 100 per cent there that day.’

CJ Stander has paid tribute to the late former Munster head coach Anthony Foley, saying that his influence played a huge role in Ireland’s first-ever win against the All Blacks.

Foley, who was fondly known as ‘Axel’, passed away suddenly at the age of 42 in 2016, the night before Munster were due to face Racing 92 in a Champions Cup pool game.

Ireland paid tribute to Foley before their game against New Zealand in Chicago the following month by standing in the shape of a number eight when facing down the haka.

The soon-to-be-retired Ireland number eight Stander was speaking on RTE’s The Late Late Show and said he believes his former coach pushed the team to another level in the famous win against the All Blacks.

CJ Stander pays tribute to Anthony Foley.

“After he passed away we played against Glasgow for Munster. That was a week when we didn’t train and we just wanted to give something back to his family and him. We had an unbelievable game,” Stander said.

“But then we had the opportunity again in Chicago with the figure of eight. Rory Best and Joe [Schmidt] decided that the Munster players would be in front of that figure of eight in Chicago.

“I’d never played against New Zealand from an Irish perspective and to stand there – I’m getting goosebumps again – there was silence. They knew what was going on – the supporters.

“There was a breeze going around and you could feel it, you can’t describe it. We were ready and we had the backing of something. Axel was there. He was there 100 per cent that day.

“We were standing about a metre apart to make the figure of eight. We felt so connected that day by this breeze and the vibe we had in the team. It pushed us and elevated us to another level.”

Stander on people questioning his right to play for Ireland: ‘It breaks my heart.’

Stander, who came to Ireland back in 2012 from South Africa, played 51 times for his adopted country, as well as winning a test cap for the British and Irish Lions against the All Blacks in 2017.

The South African-born forward has played a crucial role for Munster since he first joined the province and has been a consistent performer for Ireland since making his international debut in 2016.

Some have questioned whether Stander should be allowed to play for Ireland, as he had no connection to the country before signing for Munster, something which he admitted has bothered him during his career.

“I would lie if I said it didn’t bother me. It breaks my heart. I wanted to show I’m so proud for playing for Munster firstly and then you get a chance to play in an Irish jersey,” Stander explained.

“A lot of people had spent time on me as a person. That is one thing I am going to miss, the culture that everyone looks after everyone. And then there are a few people who think it is not okay for me to be there.”

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