Johnny Sexton has admitted that he was shocked to learn of CJ Stander’s decision to retire at the end of the season.
Stander’s announcement came as a surprise to most on Tuesday morning, and the Ireland captain has revealed that he was also caught off guard when the Munster man informed him of his decision.
Sexton was speaking to the Irish Examiner about Stander’s announcement and revealed that he never would have guessed that the South African-born Ireland international was planning to retire.
“CJ will be missed, he has contributed so much for Ireland and @Munsterrugby and hopefully his last game in green will be one to remember this weekend.” ✊💚@JohnnySexton pays tribute to @CJStander 💬#ShoulderToShoulder #ThanksCJ #IrishRugby pic.twitter.com/rgNZHe03zc
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) March 16, 2021
“Literally, if you had given me a thousand things to guess it wouldn’t have even registered on it,” Sexton admitted.
“Look, he has done things for the right reason. His wife and daughter are back in South Africa. They have been there for the last few months and they were there for the last lockdown as well so it takes its toll.
“You just take a decision based on family reasons and we respect him for that.
“He is a big loss to Munster and Irish rugby. He has been huge for both teams over the last, what is it, five, six years so, yeah, very shocked but we wish him well and we hope that his last game in green will be one to remember.”
‘He is a great person, first and foremost’
Stander first came to Ireland in 2012 when he left the Pretoria-based Bulls to join up with Munster, after being told that he was too small to play in the back row for the Springboks.
The powerful Western Cape native quickly became a fan favourite at Munster, and made his Ireland debut in 2016 upon becoming eligible for his adopted country by way of residency.
Sexton paid tribute to Stander’s time in Ireland and lauded his soon-to-be-former teammate as a “great person” with a relentless work ethic.
“He is a great person, first and foremost,” he said. “You can’t be a good teammate without being 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 but in terms of being injured, maybe you guys will tell me a game he did miss, but I can’t remember one.
“Just his relentless attitude, his preparation, how tough he was. I played against him numerous times and been on the receiving end of a few carries.
“He has got the utmost respect of anyone who has played with or against him and when you finish up that is ultimately what you want.”