CJ Stander: Johnny Sexton stunned by retirement of Ireland team-mate

Johnny Sexton and CJ Stander
Sexton has paid tribute to Ireland and British and Irish Lions team-mate CJ Stander

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton says he is stunned by international team-mate CJ Stander's decision to retire from rugby at the end of the season.

The 30-year-old is set to pull on the Irish jersey for the 51st and final time when England visit Dublin for Saturday's Six Nations finale.

"[I was] shocked - didn't see it coming," said the Ireland skipper.

"Literally, if you gave me a thousand things to guess, it wouldn't have even registered on it," added Sexton.

"They called me into a meeting yesterday morning, him and Faz [head coach Andy Farrell]; it was the last thing I thought I was getting called in for.

"He's just taking the decision for family reasons and we respect him for that but he's a big loss to Munster and Irish rugby, he's been huge for both teams over the last five, six years.

"Very shocked but we wish him well and we hope that his last game in green will be one to remember."

'A big loss to Irish rugby'

Back-row forward Stander, whose Munster and Ireland contracts end in June, plans to return home to his native South Africa.

He could yet be involved in this summer's British and Irish Lions tour against the country of his birth.

"He's done things for the right reasons - his wife and daughter are back in South Africa at the moment, they've been there for a few months and they went back for the last lockdown as well, so it takes its toll," said Sexton, who is five years older than Stander.

CJ Stander
CJ Stander won his 50th Ireland cap against Scotland on Sunday

'Very popular in the group and well respected'

Stander has been virtually ever-present for Ireland since his debut in 2016, having qualified under residency rules the previous year.

He was part of the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand and represented Ireland at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, as well as winning a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2018.

Stander reached 150 outings for Munster at the end of January after joining from South African club Bulls in 2012 and was named his province's player of the year on three occasions.

Sexton believes Stander - who won his 50th Test cap for Ireland during Sunday's 27-24 win over Scotland at Murrayfield - is admired by colleagues and opponents alike.

"He's a great person first and foremost; you can't be a good team-mate without being a good lad - very popular in the group," Leinster fly-half Sexton said of Stander's qualities.

"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, I can't remember. Just his relentless attitude, his preparation, how tough he was.

"I've played against him numerous times, I've been on the receiving end of a few carries and he's got the utmost respect of anyone that's played with or against him. Ultimately when you finish up, that's what you want.

"As a player you want to win things but the older you get, the more you realise you just want your own team-mates first and foremost to respect you and then for the opposition to think, 'he's a good player' and I am pretty sure he has achieved that."

Munster flanker Peter O'Mahony, who returns from a three-match suspension this weekend, has backed his club-mate to enjoy a summer swansong with Warren Gatland's Lions.

"I'm not a selector - I'm not going to sit here and select him for the Lions - but he's playing incredible rugby. He'll put his best foot forward, as he always does," O'Mahony said of Stander.

"He shows up every week and plays with his heart on his sleeve. He plays hard, plays fair and he will put his right hand up in the air for that selection, certainly."

Banner Image Reading Around the BBC - BlueFooter - Blue

Top Stories

Also in NI Sport