Reborn Chucky threatens Reds
SUCH has been the form of Ipswich product James Stannard for the Western Force, he is shaping as the man most likely to dent the Queensland Reds minor premiership aspirations this weekend.
Yet Stannard, who has been his team’s best player and backline general on its successful tour of New Zealand, might struggle for a place in the team.
An injury crisis with no fit five-eighths saw the Force hand the number 10 jersey to Stannard in desperation for their New Zealand trip to take on the Hurricanes and Highlanders.
What followed was a revelation, as the Force led the Hurricanes for all but the final minutes of the match, with Stannard pulling the strings.
When Stannard broke the Hurricanes defensive line, palmed off Ma’a Nonu and put Ben McCalman over it looked like he’d got the Force home.
It was not to be however, as the home team rallied late to win.
Stannard showed it was no fluke by finishing the job against the Highlanders last weekend.
While the 12th placed Force has struggled through the season, Karalee’s Stannard has spent most of the time warming the bench behind first choice halfback Brett Sheehan.
Yet in the past two games he has looked a natural five-eighth, despite not having played the position for four years, and then only at Perth club level.
“We went in with a simple game plan and the other boys supported me,” a modest Stannard said.
The man known as Chucky made the five-eighth’s role look simple.
While critics obsess about body position and running lines a five-eighth must follow, the former St Edmund’s College student trusted his instincts.
“The aim was just to get the team in good positions to attack and guide them around the park,” he said.
“Then use the backs wisely.
“I was just doing what I thought was right,” he said.
That included the fend he put on one of the most fearsome centres in the world rugby, Nonu.
“I didn’t even know it was him at the time,” Stannard said.
Despite his impressive performances, Stannard doesn’t see himself as a five-eighth in the long term.
“I think I’m still a halfback,” he said. “It depends what the coaches want.”
There is no sense of bitterness from Stannard that he hasn’t been given more of an opportunity to start for the Force sooner.
“They had no chance,” he said.
“The guys in front of me were playing well and there was no real reason to change things.
“Me and Mark (halfback Mark Swanepoel) took the bulls by the horn so they’ve got a tough decision to make.”
With former halves pairing Sheehan and Willie Ripia, as well as Wallabies wunderkind James O’Conner returning from injury, there is no guarantee Stannard will be in the team this weekend to face the Reds in Perth - and he will understand if he’s not.
If he does get a chance against the Reds Stannard will have a massive job countering Queensland’s star halves combination.
“I think the Brumbies shut down Will (Genia) and Quade (Cooper),” the 28-year-old said.
“That is a key.
“We need to be physical at the breakdown and take the opportunities as they come.”