Player of the Championship nominee: CJ Stander

Ireland may have missed out on the Guinness Six Nations title but CJ Stander could not have done much more to try and bring the trophy to Dublin.

Ireland may have missed out on the Guinness Six Nations title but CJ Stander could not have done much more to try and bring the trophy to Dublin.

No player made more carries (78) or won more turnovers (7) than the consistent back-rower in this year’s Championship and the 30-year-old played nigh on every minute, missing only the dying seconds of the win over Wales after picking up a late yellow card.

Stander set the tone for his Championship with successive Player of the Match awards in the opening fortnight.

Against Scotland in Round 1, Stander lined up at blindside flanker rather than his customary No.8 role but didn’t let that stop him delivering a blockbuster performance.

He made 72 metres from his 17 carries and thundered into 18 tackles, while also winning two turnovers in his side’s 19-12 success.

And Stander was taking home the champagne again the following weekend after another all-action display, this time against Wales, as Ireland made it two wins from two.

The Munster star, back in the No.8 jersey, won three turnovers against Wayne Pivac’s side and was successful with all 12 of his tackles as the hosts ran out 24-14 winners in Dublin.

Andy Farrell’s men then travelled to Twickenham in search of a Triple Crown but those hopes were all but over by half time, which arrived with England 17-0 to the good.

Ireland fought back bravely in the second half but succumbed to a 24-14 defeat, ending their Grand Slam ambitions in the process.

Stander remained a solid presence at the back of the scrum, however, finishing as his side’s joint-furthest carrier alongside Bundee Aki (53 metres) and again ending with a tackle success rate of 100 per cent from his 18 hits.

It turned out to be Ireland’s last game for eight months as the Championship was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic but Stander, fresh from high-quality displays for Munster in the Guinness PRO14, continued on from where he left off when the Championship returned in October.

The No.8 was the first Irish player back on the scoresheet after their long hiatus, going over for the first of his side’s seven tries in the early stages of a comfortable win over Italy to mark the start of another fine individual display.

Part of a new-look back-row alongside Leinster young guns Caelan Doris and Will Connors, Stander made a mammoth 109 metres from his 21 carries and ensured his status as an ever-present through the elongated Championship by retaining his place for the Super Saturday crunch clash in Paris.

Ireland needed to win by a seven-point margin to leapfrog England and claim the Championship but fell short against a free-flowing French side, who ran out 35-27 winners.

Stander stood up and was counted despite his side swimming against the tide in the Stade de France, making 14 carries and winning two turnovers to take him to the top of the Championship’s overall list in both categories.

Though the likes of Doris and Connors have provided a glimpse of Ireland’s future in the back-row department, Stander’s quality performances have emphasised the fact he remains an integral part of the here and now.

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