Donal Lenihan says he would not be surprised if CJ Stander makes a playing return in South Africa despite announcing his retirement this week when his contract runs out in June.
The backrower will win his 51st and final cap for Ireland tomorrow against England and close the Irish chapter of his career that began in 2012.
The 30-year-old's statement revealed he is stepping away from "all forms of rugby" when his contract runs out to concentrate on his family, with his wife and daughter back in South Africa.
Speaking on the RTÉ Rugby podcast, Lenihan says Stander has been a "magnificent performer" in the red of Munster and green of Ireland, and while he was shocked at the announcement, understands why the decision was made.
He also believes that the initial offer from the IRFU during contract negotiations may have fallen well below Stander’s expectations, another possible factor in his decision to quit.
"I think you have to factor in lockdown," he said. "It’s well known that CJ’s wife and kids are back in South Africa. He was back himself for a period of time.
"I respected 100% the honesty and commitment Stander gave to Munster and Ireland. That can never be questioned. I think he felt that that needed to be rewarded in terms of the contract he was offered.
"He was always going to go back to the family farm and business. I get the impression the first offer he got from the IRFU left him very cold.
"We understand that everybody’s contract has been dropped because of Covid, because of the financial scenario, but maybe that was just another factor.
"Covid has accelerated a process that was always inevitable. He was always going to return to South Africa."
As well as impressing those in Irish rugby circles, Lenihan has seen first-hand the impression Stander’s journey has made back in his homeland.
"I was in South Africa in 2018 when Munster played Southern Kings in his hometown, George. Munster had more South African fans than those that travelled.
"It was interesting just to see how revered he was in the area, how what he had done with Munster and Ireland had resonated down there."
While players in camp have been paying tribute to Stander's professionalism, work ethic and popularity within the group, Lenihan isn’t convinced, despite his statement, that we have seen the last of the abrasive backrower on a rugby pitch.
"Chasing ostriches around the farm, I'd say he might get fed up of that after a while and you might see him back in the Pro 16 playing for one of the South African franchises."
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