MUNSTER forwards coach Graham Rowntree reacted to the massive news of CJ Stander’s retirement at yesterday’s virtual press conference.
Stander took the decision to retire for family reasons and a surprise announcement was released by Munster Rugby yesterday morning. It was confirmed that the 30 year-old would be retiring after the Summer international window after nine brilliant years in Limerick.
Assistant coach Rowtree was as shocked and saddened by the news as any supporter.
“What a loss. Gutted. I’m sorry to see him go but delighted to see him do it on his terms,” said the Englishman.
“What a shock to us all, but a great bloke – a great, great rugby player – but a great bloke more importantly and we’ll miss him around here. There is literally some big shoes to fill.
“We’ll miss him but hopefully he gets a proper send off in a rugby sense.”
Neither Stander or veteran teammate Billy Holland will get the experience of a Thomond Park farewell due to COVID-19.
The two men have been courageous leaders in the Munster set-up for the last number of years and Rowntree’s admiration for the pair of them speaks volumes about their character.
“Both guys I’ve grown to really like and I’ve previously admired their play from afar.
“Obviously I got to work with CJ on the Lions tour but I’ve got to know Billy and yeah they’re great for the young lads. They’re tough to replace but what we are finding is the development of guys who will be able to replace them.”
To try and soften the blow, Munster can take hope from the progress of young backrowers such as Gavin Coombes, John Hodnett, Jack O’Sullivan and Alex Kendellen.
Their own individual talents are more than exciting on their own but now inspired to match the heroic standards set by their former teammate they can perhaps elevate themselves to new heights when donning the number eight jersey.
Stander’s mark around Thomond Park will never be forgotten and Rowntree shone a light on the 2017 Lion’s influence in the Munster set-up.
“Every session he empties the tank. Every game – you know he usually plays eighty minutes, he gives his all every session.
“He’s just such a good guy around the place – humble, professional but warm as well. He likes a bit of craic as everyone does around here.
“He’ll be a big character to replace.”