MUNSTER Rugby's now retired number eight CJ Stander has made an emotional return to his native South Africa.
Stander's time in the red jersey of Munster ended this week with the province's exit from the inaugural Guinness Rainbow Cup competition.
The 2020/21 Munster Rugby squad gathered at their High Performance Centre at UL on Monday for the final time this season.
The departing players said their good-byes to team mates, including Stander, James Cronin, JJ Hanrahan, Billy Holland, Rhys Marshall, Nick McCarthy and Tommy O’Donnell who have completed their time at the province with Darren Sweetnam leaving for La Rochelle in March.
In all, CJ Stander made 156 appearances for Munster and scored 42 tries. The talismanic back-row joined Munster in October 2012 initially on a two-year contract, making the move from Super 15 side the Blue Bulls in South Africa.
Stander won 51 caps for Ireland and featured for the British and Irish Lions during their 2017 tour to New Zealand.
Announcing his decision to retire from rugby earlier this year, Stander said: "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 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."
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