Proud flanker CJ Stander admitted he could never have helped Ireland make history against New Zealand without his rugby “rock” Anthony Foley.
Ireland ended their 111-year wait for a win over the All Blacks with a 40-29 success in Chicago.
Before Saturday’s game, Stander fronted Ireland’s figure-of-eight tribute formation to late Munster head coach Foley.
The 26-year-old stood alongside Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo in the front line of Ireland’s tribute to Foley while New Zealand performed the Haka at Soldier Field.
Stander laid the credit for his Test match career at the feet of former Ireland captain and No 8 Foley, who died in October aged 42.
“We made a figure of eight.For me personally, Murray and all the Munster boys to stand at the front, that was big,” said Stander.
“He meant so much to me. He was really the rock in my rugby the last four years.
“He showed me a lot about what he’d learned over the years. I think he pushed me to the next level.”
Ireland’s first win over New Zealand – at the 29th attempt – came courtesy of tries from Stander, Jordi Murphy, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo and Robbie Henshaw, pictured right.
And Stander extolled the virtues of the late Foley, and how the gritty No8’s example inspired Saturday’s historic victory.
Foley was found dead at Munster’s team hotel on the morning of the Irish side’s Champions Cup clash with Racing 92 in Paris, with that match quickly postponed.
Munster thumped Glasgow 38-17 at Thomond Park the following weekend, the day after Foley’s funeral. Stander scored a try that day, and bagged another try against the All Blacks.
Foley won 63 caps for Ireland and spearheaded Munster’s rise to the top of the European game, as the Thomond Park province won two Heineken Cup titles.
Stander arrived in Munster in 2012 still stung by being told he was too small to play back-row for the Springboks. Now he has eight Test caps and a part in history – and he believes that much of the credit must fall to Foley.
“It’s the same as the Glasgow match; we wanted to give something back to him,” said Stander. “You just think of what type of man he was, what a legend he was. What he gave to me as a rugby player.
“Then in that 60th minute when you’re tired, you just think why you’re playing this match.
“It went well today, and everything we gave was for him. So this match was for Axel.”
Ireland will now host Canada in Dublin on Saturday as November’s autumn internationals return to more accustomed settings.
Joe Schmidt’s men then face New Zealand again at the Aviva Stadium on 19 November. Stander has already warned Ireland to expect a severe backlash from the back-to-back world champions, who were forced to surrender their 18-match winning streak in the USA.
“We spoke in the week that going up against the best means you have to give your best,” said Stander.
“It was an unbelievable performance from all the boys and it’s a big confidence boost, but we’re playing them again in two weeks’ time so they’re going to come back with everything they have.
“We’re going to have to pick up the stuff we left on the pitch. There’s a few mistakes we made at the end there, but there’s also plenty of good that we’ve got to build on too.”