We are all guilty of needing a wake-up call at some point in our lives when our surroundings become too comfortable.
For CJ Stander, who has been Ireland’s go-to number eight since the retirement of Jamie Heaslip, that jolt came when new head coach Andy Farrell selected the up-and-coming Caelan Doris in the position against Scotland in their Six Nations opener.
Stander wasn’t dropped for the game, merely moved to flanker, but it did remind him that there is plenty of new and talented competition vying for precious places in the back row.
“If someone gets selected into the pool of your back row then you go ‘okay, there’s someone new now’ it probably subconsciously kick-started something,” Stander said.
“Like, I know I needed to play my best, we all know we needed to do that. I really wanted to do my best for the team and so if that means me moving and letting someone else in or me not playing then I need to step up again.
“We all know we need to be at our best and probably subconsciously it did kick-start something.”
The move couldn’t have worked out any better for Farrell who, despite having lost Doris to injury in that opening game, finds himself with a welcome selection headache in the back row with the much-improved form of Munster pairing Peter O’Mahony and Stander.
The South African native was awarded the man-of-the-match accolade in both of Ireland’s Six Nations games thus far but their toughest task will certainly come in Twickenham on Sunday when they come face-to-face with World Cup finalists England.
“It’s going to be a physical battle, and not just the back row. We have been in a lot of battles together and against each other, but I think their whole pack, especially the backline, will bring massive line speed and physicality.
“[Owen] Farrell is someone I’ve played against twice already this year and we know what he brings. Their backs are physical, they’ve got massive individuals who can change a game just like that in an instant.
“We saw what happened before last year, if we don’t pitch up ready to play at Twickenham… We know we have to go over there and be physical.”
England have their own number eight problems to deal with in the absence of the injured Billy Vunipola. Against France and Scotland, Eddie Jones has opted to play 21-year-old flanker Tom Curry in the position but many fans have called for the inclusion of a natural eight, like Alex Dombrandt, in their squad.
However, Stander believes Curry is “exceptional” and warns that Ireland cannot afford to underestimate him in the position.
“I think he is an exceptional player. People say he is out of depth, he is not really, he still has the same work ethic and still does what he does on the pitch. I have watched a little bit of his work at the base and it is still good so I think people are just comparing him with Billy who is a guy that brings momentum from anywhere on the pitch.
“I think he is one of the best players on the pitch and to think we can exploit that is not going to work because he is doing a great job back there. Some people think it is a difficult switch but that switch is quite easy, you just have to look after the ball at the back of the scrum.”