On Monday this week, the curtain fell on one of the most significant Australian Rugby careers of the professional era when James ‘Chucky’ Stannard announced his injury-enforced retirement.
The 34-year-old retires as Australia’s highest ever points scorer on the World Rugby Sevens series, with his career in the abbreviated form of the game bookmarking five years of professional XVs Rugby in both Australia and Japan.
One of the most popular and respected players that the game has seen, both within Australia but also among international rivals on the World Series, Chucky had been pushing for a comeback in July’s Rugby Sevens World Cup but lingering symptoms meant he had to put his health first.
To reflect upon his career, RUPA reached out to Australian Men’s Rugby Sevens Captain Lewis Holland, former Wallaby and Western Force star Nathan Sharpe and DJ Forbes, the former All Blacks Sevens star and the most-capped player in the history of the competition.
Two traits were consistent across all three players’ tributes; Chucky’s intense level of competitiveness on the field, but also the fact that Chucky is a fantastic bloke off the field.
“I have so much respect for him,” Forbes told RUPA. “He’s from that same era that I was, and was there for Rugby Sevens’ transition from semi-professional to what it is now.
"He has typified that Aussie team for as long as I can remember; we always knew we were up for an epic battle against him, and he always got his boys to lift, with a lot of games that went right to the wire in that rivalry.
"It was such a pleasure to play against him and it is a testament to him that he’s survived such a long period where the game evolved so much.”
Sharpe, who spent three seasons alongside Chucky in Perth, was able to reflect on not only their time playing together, but also his opinion watching Stannard’s influence on Rugby Sevens from afar.
“Chucky’s influence on the Aussie Sevens program has been monumental, and you can see that from the sidelines,” Sharpe said. “I haven’t ever had anything to do with Rugby Sevens, besides enjoying watching it and having a few beers, but the way he turned that team around and the maturity he showed in some difficult situations speaks volumes of the guy.”
Holland first came across Stannard during Chucky’s stint in Canberra, with the then-teenager watching him in action at both Club and Super Rugby level.
“Being from Canberra, I had grown up watching him play for the Queanbeyan Whites and the Brumbies, and I always knew he was a great competitor,” Holland said. “You could always see he had a great work ethic. He’s so easy going off the field but on the field, he is super competitive.
"I loved watching Chucky play, and to want to play like somebody when you’re older and then actually get the chance to play alongside them, and have them as one of your best mates, is pretty special.”
Forbes described Chucky’s ‘white line fever’, from the point of view of an opponent.
“He had a pretty wiry mouth on the field, to put it nicely, and there were a few moments where he got stuck into me and the boys but the stuff that would happen on the field stayed there because he would be the first of the Aussie boys to come over at full time and give you a pat on the back and it was all sorted.
“You loved him as a competitor, because off the field he’d recognise the hard work everybody had put in to be where they were, and he would always want to sit down and have a beer with you when the time was right.”
That balance was universally liked by opponents and teammates alike.
“He is an emotional guy who wears his heart on his sleeve,” Sharpe said. “He was one of the hardest working blokes in the room, tough as nails, and he was one of those guys who you knew would put his body on the line for his teammates no matter what.
“Away from Rugby, he enjoys a laugh and a good time and while he can be bloody cranky sometimes, he has a warped sense of humour which always resonated with me.”
Whilst Stannard has had to call time earlier than anticipated, it’s perfectly clear how he’ll be remembered.
“It’s always sad when somebody has to retire before they’ve called time themselves, but you can’t take anything away from what he has achieved and the contribution he has made to the game,” Forbes said. “He can be very proud of everything he has achieved as a player, and for what he has done to set up the Australian team and environment, and I wish him all the very best for the future.”
“Chucky summed up everything that is great about Rugby and playing a team sport,” Sharpe added. “It didn’t matter what situation you were in, he was selfless to a fold, and the only regret that I have from my time with Chucky is that I didn’t get to play with him more often.”
He might not be training alongside Chucky every day, but it’s clear he will continue to play a big part in Holland’s life.
“I have a lot of respect for Chucky and I can’t really put into words everything he has done for me.
“He rings me every day to have a yarn and he will probably keep doing that because he gets bored easily, but he’s great for a yarn and gives fantastic advice. He has that great ability to talk and live Rugby when you need to, but outside of that he’s not afraid to head out to the bush, go camping and get away from it all and really switch off. That’s the main learning I have taken from him; when you’ve got to be on, be on, but outside of that there’s more to life and if you can balance those things then no doubt you’re going to succeed.”
Born: 12th February 1983, Brisbane
Club Team: Eastwood
Professional Rugby Teams: Western Force (2008, 2011-12), Brumbies (2009-10), Australian Men’s Rugby Sevens (2010, 2013-2018)
Super Rugby Caps: 31 (84 points)
World Rugby Sevens Series Debut: Wellington, 2010
World Rugby Sevens Series Matches: 245 (47 Tournaments)
World Rugby Sevens Series Points: 1,239 points (13th all-time, top Australian)
Other Honours: Commonwealth Games (2010 & 2014), Olympic Games (2016), Rugby Sevens World Cup (2013)