James Stannard - Old Dog guiding new Pups

by Jill Scanlon

In professional sporting terms, being in your 30s while still playing at an elite level is akin to being on a long-haul freeway and being reminded that your off ramp will be coming into view at any time.

Not for James Stannard it would seem. ‘Chucky’ Stannard is the most senior member of the Australian Men’s Sevens squad and will be turning 34 years old this month.

Of course, that phrase should perhaps be ’34 years young’ if you were one of the tens of thousands who watched him run around the field last weekend during the Sydney 7s World Series tournament.

Stannard is now Australia’s all-time leading points scorer, a kicker of enviable repute and, if his 2017 Sydney 7s form is anything to go by, has an engine that is finely tuned and humming along nicely.

Over the four tournaments run so far this series, he has made 34 tackles, had 29 ball carries, kicked 35 goals – 10 in Sydney – and scored 90 points overall.

While no coach would consider a fourth placing as a result worth marked celebration, for the young Aussie team the performance in Sydney was a major step forward in its development and Stannard was a cornerstone in that development and success.

Although after the tournament, the man himself was dismissive of this suggestion saying he just went about his business and let the youngsters do their thing.

“I just play my own game and let those blokes try and play footy – and that’s the best thing you can do for young kids coming into the program, just let them shine,” he said.

“They’re there for a reason and they’re good footy players.”

What Stannard liked most about what he saw was the growth from such young and inexperienced players.

“We grew as a team and that’s a positive sign for us going forward. I can just see the confidence in them growing.”

The current status of the Aussie 7s Men’s team is becoming a well-known story of teenagers being blooded quickly out of necessity caused by injuries and defections.

If you thought the Rio Olympics created a dynamic if not sometimes manic level of preparation for the Australian sevens teams, the next four years is even bigger with 2018 alone seeing the Commonwealth Games and the Sevens Rugby World Cup taking centre stage.

There is no reason at this point to think Stannard is not planning to be a part of all that.

While former captain Ed Jenkins and current squad captain Lewis Holland are a key part of the leadership strategies, they are sidelined with injury and of no use once the team runs out to play.

Although usually sharing the on-field leadership duties with this season’s tournament captain Sam Myers, Stannard has found himself often bearing the load as Myers has dealt with the occasional injury during recent tournaments.

“It is hard leadership-wise but it’s made easy by the young fellas just listening and then going out there, running hard and doing their job,” he said.

The physical toll on the body in sevens is a severe one.

Stannard admits his body gets “pretty sore” but that it’s par for the course and something that he just accepts.

“It’s always tough no matter whether you’re young or old in this game because it is so demanding on the body,” he said.

“Six games and the mental side of it is tough as well, getting up and down, up and down for each game.

"But you get used to that after a time."

“I guess I’ve by built a sort of immunity to it over the years, so I’m pretty lucky in that way.” Recovery time is always welcome though!

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