CJ Stander’s out-of-the-blue decision to call time on his rugby career with Munster and Ireland is still being absorbed by those involved in the sport here.
He earned his 51st and last international cap against England at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday though Stander’s return to his native South Africa in June is down the road yet.
There’s the matter of sending him off with a medal or two in his back pocket as Munster size up the challenge that Leinster represent in the PRO 14 final on Saturday before re-engaging with Europe’s Champions Cup the following week against old foes Toulouse in the round of last 16.
It should really come as little surprise that the dynamic back-row is returning to the land of his birth because all of Munster’s overseas contingent do eventually make that journey home at some point.
Stander’s timing was more the issue, the week of a Six Nations game against the English and with Munster still heavily involved in a season approaching the business end.
Yet, the rampaging 30-years-old owes Munster nothing because he bought into the unique culture of the province, lived and breathed Limerick life and never gave less than 100 per cent in the famous red jersey.
Stander’s presence is another illustration of the important link between South African rugby and Munster which is reflected not only in the number and quality of player arriving in Ireland, but in the critical coaching area, as well.
The former Bulls player arrived in Munster in 2012, the same year that another famous son of South Africa who had endeared himself to the province was making the trip in the opposite direction.
Like Stander, Shaun Payne also spent the guts of a decade here, starring as a dependable and attacking full-back between 2003 and 2008 before moving straight into the role of manager on retirement.
Now 49, the Cape Town resident, who was signed from Swansea, played 109 times for Munster and scored 18 tries, the first against Leinster and the last against Ulster.
One of the chief differences between the pair is that Payne had something to show for his time, a Celtic Cup medal from 05 and the break-through Heineken Cup the following year against Biarritz. How Munster would love for Stander to emulate his fellow Springbok.
Another South African, Trevor Halstead, also made a favourable impression even if his time with Munster stretched to just a couple of seasons because the powerful centre was the final missing piece in the jigsaw in 06.
The former Natal Sharks player brought a cutting edge to Munster’s midfield which was readily recognised in his tries in the semi-final win over Leinster and the final in Cardiff as well.
Now 44, Halstead, who shares the same birthday as yours truly, returned home to the family engineering business in Durban.
During his two seasons, the rampaging inside centre played 41 times and crossed for eight tries, none more memorable than those in Europe.
Another exponent of the midfield, Jean de Villiers, was further proof of the class of player Munster were able to attract even if South African forwards are in a league of their own.
BJ Botha and Wian du Preez were just two shy of a combined 200 appearances in the murky underworld of the scrum between 2009 and 2016 and took immediately to the cause.
Jean Kleyn’s presence in the engine room has bolstered the front five since his arrival in 2016 and the return from cruciate knee ligament injury of RG Synman next season further embellishes the South Africa connection.
Current head coach Johann van Graan followed in the footsteps of another Bok, Rassie Erasmus, who is now the head coach of the national team and director of coaching back home, having guided them to World Cup glory in 2019.
Both had local lieutenants as part of their management teams, too, Jacques Nienbar as defence coach with Erasmus and JP Ferreira in the same role with van Graan.