Stannard standing tall

Date published: February 21 2008

Western Force debutant James Stannard will cap off a rugby rollercoaster ride when he starts at half-back in disgraced Matt Henjak's place against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Western Force debutant James Stannard will cap off a rugby rollercoaster ride when he starts at half-back in disgraced Matt Henjak's place against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Henjak was given his marching orders from Rugby Western Australia (RugbyWA) after one brawl too many.

Stannard now finds himself in at the deep end as he and the Perth-based franchise prepare to make amends for their first round loss to the Sharks.

Friday's Super 14 clash with the Cheetahs will be Stannard's first start for the Force – not bad going for a former unknown fly-half plucked from obscurity.

If that pressure wasn't enough, the former Brisbane-based boilermaker's Super 14 hot seat just got hotter with the Western Force swiftly replacing Henjak with Chris O'Young.

It's likely to be just a stop-gap for one game as O'Young jets into South Africa from Scotland to join the Force after signing a new three-year contract.

Ironically, O'Young left the Force nine months ago to play for the Glasgow Warriors in the Magners League after finding his path blocked by Henjak.

The 26-year-old's move prompted the Perth-based club to transform Academy player Stannard from a fly-half to a scrum-half where he cut his teeth under Henjak in last year's Australian Rugby Championship (ARC).

As the Australian Rugby Union's (ARU) senior executives and legal counsel pored over tribunal documents following Rugby WA's decision to sack Henjak for breaking team-mate Haig Sare's jaw, Stannard was flying to Bloemfontein for the match early Saturday morning.

The ARU is expected to ratify the termination of Henjak's contract that was due to expire this year.

Stannard was pinching himself after being thrown into his unlikely debut two years after being lured west from Brisbane Souths.

“It's all fallen into place,” Stannard told AAP.

“I'm a little bit nervous but more excited than anything. I'll give it my best shot.

“I didn't know too much about (Henjak's sacking). I've just worried about my own routine and doing that.”

With O'Young poised to take the half-back duties in next week's clash with the Lions, Stannard admitted he was under immense pressure to give quick, clean service to playmaker Matt Giteau.

“It will be in the back of my mind a bit but I won't be worried about it,” he said.

“I just want to play some good footy and hopefully things go all right.”

Coach John Mitchell, also forced into a backline reshuffle with full-back Cameron Shepherd (knee) ruled out, praised Stannard as a “success story” of Western Australia rugby.

“He's had a great desire and has been quite fortunate to get a starting opportunity,” said Mitchell.

“He's on a big learning curve but is a valued team member.”

Mitchell also broke his silence surrounding the incident which saw Sare's jaw broken and Henjak's career in tatters after a Force drinking session.

“It was a timely reminder to everyone at the club that the team comes first … the team is more important than individual talents,” said Mitchell.

“For a few weeks there people forgot to care for everyone and until you care for everyone in your group you won't play for each other and great things won't happen.

“They let the group down and they let each other down. Let's hope mateship is understood here, mateship is about helping each other.”

Giteau will take the kicking duties from Shepherd who, in a worrying sign, strained the ACL in the same knee which plagued his 2007 campaign.