Munster and Ireland star CJ Stander has announced he will retire from rugby in June.
Stander won his 50th Irish cap last weekend against Scotland but has decided he will retire “from all forms of rugby” when his Munster deal expires and the end of the mid-year Test window.
In a statement, the 30-year-old said: “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.
“During the lockdown, I did a stock-take 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.”
Stander made his debut for Munster in 2012 after moving to Ireland from the Blue Bulls in his native South Africa.
He made his Ireland debut in 2016 after qualifying under the residency rule.
He has decided to retire after questioning his desire to continue to compete at the highest level, plus a preference to raise his family at home in South Africa.
“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 powerful ball carrier, who plays at blindside flanker and Number 8, revealed that both Munster and the IRFU tried to change his mind to play on beyond the summer.
“It was during a freezing training session at Munster towards the end of 2020 that I just knew I 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. 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 Football 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.”
Stander concluded: “As I now shift my focus squarely back to my family, I do so hoping that I’m leaving the Irish jersey in an even better space than when I first inherited it.
“Ireland has enormous talent breaking through the ranks, and it is now time for me to step back and allow a new generation of players to answer Ireland’s call.”
The news is a significant blow to head coach Andy Farrell and will lead to further rebuilding needed following a stop-start Six Nations campaign which concludes this weekend against England.