Ireland and Munster back row CJ Stander has announced that he will retire from rugby at the end of this season.
South African-born Stander, who turns 31 next month, has earned Ireland 50 caps and played 150 times for Munster in addition to representing the Lions.
“I hereby publicly announce my retirement from all forms of rugby,” said Stander in a lengthy statement.
The forward, whose Munster and Ireland contracts end in June, plans to return home to his native South Africa.
“All professional sportspeople are told: ‘You will know when the time is right to hang up your boots’. It’s a sentiment one cannot fully comprehend until that day arrives. For me, that time has come,” added Stander.
“I will be available to represent Munster until 27 June 2021 when my contract expires, and for international duty, until the end of the mid-year Test window.”
Decision taken during ‘lockdown stocktake’
Stander said he had done a “stocktake of what matters most to me in life” during lockdown.
“My faith, family and this incredible game I have played since I was six years old easily topped the list.
“However, I came to the realisation that my commitment to rugby has started to take an unfair toll on my family, who both in Limerick and South Africa have made considerable sacrifices for more than 25 years to allow me to live my dream.
“I am not saddened by my decision. I’ve had a full and utterly enjoyable rugby career, and I can now look back on a journey that offered me rewards, memories and surprises beyond anything I could have scripted for myself. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Stander described the 150 games he has played for Munster as “some of the most precious and formative experiences of my life”.
“My blood will remain Munster red long after I have said my goodbyes to the people of Limerick.”
‘I never considered myself a foreigner’
Referring to his Ireland career, Stander said that he has “never considered myself a foreigner in an Irish jumper”.
“In 2012, arriving as a 22-year-old who only had two kitbags flung over his shoulders and a limited command of English, I had to commit myself to a new family who immediately adopted me as one of their own.”
The back row admitted that a “freezing training session” near the end of last year told him he “had entered the final stretch of my career”.
“I asked myself whether I was still enjoying this enough to earn the continued support of Munster and Ireland and to justify the sacrifices my family was making.
“From a performance perspective, the answer was yes. But I always had the intent to retire while I was still playing some of my best rugby. I also knew I wanted my daughter Everli to grow up around her family in South Africa.”
Stander said that both Munster coach Johann van Graan and the IRFU had attempted to convince him to change his mind “but I knew it was time”.
Paying tribute to Van Graan and his Ireland coaches Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell as well as his team-mates, Stander’s statement included a “special word” of thanks to the late Munster coach Anthony Foley who died suddenly in Paris October 2016 on a day when the Irish province were scheduled to face Racing 92 in the European Champions Cup game.
“Your impact on my personal and professional life remains as tangible today as it was when you were still with us,” Stander said of Foley.