Ireland No.8 CJ Stander believes his teammates should have no regrets despite going down 21-16 to Wales in their 2021 Guinness Six Nations Round 1 match in Cardiff on Sunday.
The Men in Green let a 13-6 half-time lead slip at Principality Stadium, having played over an hour with 14-men after Peter O’Mahony’s early dismissal.
Tadhg Beirne put the visitors into the lead as they responded valiantly to going a man down, before second-half scores from George North and Louis Rees-Zammit turned the game around after the interval.
But despite the defeat to Wayne Pivac’s side, the Munster man was proud of his team’s efforts to deal with adversity and the character they showed to hold their own for much of the game.
“We knew that we were going to have to work a little bit harder and the good thing is we trained like that during the week just in case something like that happened,” Stander said to Virgin One Sport after the defeat in Cardiff.
“We just had to work harder and make sure we got first-time tackles.
“It was a massive fight, we didn’t get the win which is disappointing we’ve got some work ons and we know what we’ve got to do.
“The jersey means a lot to the players and the team and to the coaching staff as well. Ten percent more when we had the man down, we really had to dig deep and went out in the second half.”
The opening round defeat leaves Ireland playing catch-up right from the off in the 2021 Championship, with a crucial Round 2 clash against France on the horizon this Sunday.
It was Les Bleus who emerged victorious last time the two sides met, with Fabien Galthie’s side claiming victory in Paris last October to deny Stander and his teammates the opportunity to lift the Guinness Six Nations trophy aloft.
Ireland will be waiting on the results of return-to-play protocols for Johnny Sexton and James Ryan ahead of the Round 2 affair, as well as today’s disciplinary hearing for O’Mahony.
Leinster back-row Jack Conan has been drafted into the squad ahead of the weekend, while domestic teammates Ryan Baird and Ed Byrne continues to train with the international side as Ireland look to respond to the Round 1 loss.
But as England proved last year, a defeat on opening weekend doesn’t spell disaster, with Eddie Jones’ side going on to claim Championship glory after losing to France in the 2020 curtain-raiser.
And Stander is confident his side can quickly dust themselves down after defeat in Cardiff, and knows they will be all set for the challenge that the French side will bring in Dublin this weekend.
“If you don’t have momentum, you are on the back foot,” Stander said.
“We have been here before. We just need to get away from the wall and keep on pushing. We have a massive squad, who can keep their heads high.
“We have opportunities still to go. It was not a win, but we can be proud of what we did.”