Munster back row CJ Stander is the type of player the British and Irish Lions will need on their tour to New Zealand this summer, that’s according to Irish rugby great Brian O’Driscoll.
O’Driscoll won 133 caps for Ireland and knows what it’s like to play for the Lions in New Zealand, having captained them during their 2005 tour.
Stander became the first Ireland player since O’Driscoll in 2002 to score a Six Nations hat-trick last week. His popularity is rising among fans and his sparkling form makes him an automatic pick in Joe Schmidt’s starting XV.
O’Driscoll insists he has been massively impressed by South African-born Stander, despite being against the current residency rule.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, O’Driscoll said:
“I’ve been massively impressed with him.
“I’ll be brutally honest, I didn’t know that he would be the player that he has become. I’m sure the South Africans are absolutely spewing about losing a world-class player.
“From a Lions perspective, he is absolutely in the mix. He is exactly what you need to take on a big Kiwi pack.”
Born in George, South Africa, Stander started his career with Pretoria-based Blue Bulls. Having represented his country of birth at under-18 and under-20 level, he was thought too small to become a full international, and for that reason moved to Munster in 2012.
He then took advantage of the current residency rules by opting to represent Ireland, for whom he made his debut in February 2016.
That current residency rule allows a player to represent the country they play in after a three-year period. This is something O’Driscoll doesn’t agree with, although he understands why some players will decide to switch countries.
“CJ has made the most of the circumstances that still exist and good luck to him.
“He felt he wasn’t going to make it at the grade in South Africa. I personally think three years is too short but I wouldn’t knock CJ or Bundee Aki who want to play for a team that isn’t the country of their birth or where they grew up because it is an opportunity to play international rugby.”
Peter Reynolds, Pundit Arena