Ireland back row CJ Stander has announced he will retire from rugby at the end of the season, just days after winning his 50th cap.
A tourist with the British & Irish Lions in 2017, Stander reached the milestone for Ireland in their win over Scotland in the Six Nations at the weekend.
But the South Africa-born flanker shocked the Irish rugby system with the announcement he will retire from all forms of rugby when his contract with Munster and the IRFU expires this summer.
“All professional sports people 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, and I hereby publicly announce my retirement from all forms of rugby,” Stander, 30, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“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.
“During the lockdown, I did a stocktake of what matters most to me in life. 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. The 150 matches I played for Munster were 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.”
The Irish Independent has reported that Stander had been in negotiations with the IRFU over extending his contract, but that the offer made to Stander was below his expectations.
Stander, who has made over 150 appearances for Munster, won his first Ireland cap in 2016 and would go on to tour New Zealand and feature off the bench in the third Test.
“I have just played my 50th Test for Ireland. I have never considered myself a foreigner in an Irish jumper, but I knew this environment would only reward hard work, devotion and the forging of authentic relationships. My first steps towards the Test arena were taken from the welcoming midst of the people of Limerick. 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. Limerick became my home.
“I also knew I wanted my daughter Everli to grow up around her family in South Africa. When all these intentions and considerations intercepted each other during that training session, I discussed the implications thereof with coach Johann van Graan and the Irish Rugby Union.
“I deeply appreciate that they tried to persuade me otherwise, but I knew it was time. I will be playing my final matches as a professional athlete with contentment and gratitude for what was and for what lies ahead in the next chapter of my life.”