Ireland and Munster backrow, CJ Stander, was named as the Rugby Writers of Ireland’s ‘player of the year’ last night.
The dust was just settling on a remarkable Ireland Guinness Test series when players, guests and the rugby media gathered in the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin for the annual awards.
South African born Stander joined Munster in 2012 as a project overseas signing and qualified to play for Ireland in 2015 just after the Rugby World Cup finished.
He made his debut in last season’s Six Nations and 2016 has proved an eventful year for both him and Ireland.
During the South Africa summer tour, Stander started in the first Test and was rec carded - his first career sending off. Ireland went on to win the game - their first even win over the Springboks in South Africa.
Ireland went on to created further history as they defeated New Zealand for the first time ever in Chicago at the start of November and the win last Saturday over Australia completed a clean sweep against the Southern Hemisphere nations.
In between Stander, his Munster team mates and the rugby family in Ireland have had to deal with the sad loss of Munster head coach Anthony Foley.
Last night Stander said the past year had probably been one of the toughest of his career.
“It was difficult just being in a team needing to win week in, week out just to qualify for Europe.
“Then going out to South Africa to perform and then not getting the chance.
“At some stage you’d probably start doubting yourself but I’ve learned, for myself and from other people, to go from week to week and put it all behind you.
“The passing away of the big man, Axel, was very tough and I won’t put that behind me but the South Africa thing, the red card, for me personally it was one of my worst days but the team won and for the first time won in South Africa so there was a bigger picture and it was about the team, not about yourself.
“You can’t go into a corner and feel bad for yourself if you’re not going to perform the next week (through suspension) you still have to give the boys in green your best training during the week, get out of your shell and work your hardest for the team.
“That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned in the last few years. As long as you work hard for the people around you, they’ll pick you up. especially in this group.”