Monday 26 June 2017

'One day when hopefully I have a daughter or son they can wear it' - CJ Stander reflects on 'one of the best days of his life'

CJ Stander speaks to the media in Limerick earlier this weeks. PhotoL Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
CJ Stander speaks to the media in Limerick earlier this weeks. PhotoL Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It's a weird one. You go to London for your first day at school, collect your new uniform, meet your new peers and get an address from principal Gatland, and before you know it you're in a taxi back to Heathrow and you have to put it all out of your mind for another few weeks.

For CJ Stander and all of the Lions who have been with their provinces instead of training at the Vale of Glamorgan this week, it's been a case of trying to put the big next step out of their minds. They've had the introduction, but the rest must wait.

Winning a first trophy for Munster is a good distraction, though, for a man who says he is feeling fresher than he ever has at this point of a season, having been laid up with an ankle problem and playing hurt since the European Champions Cup quarter-final win over Toulouse.

The defeat to Saracens in the semi-final allowed Stander time to recover from the injury that so hampered his impact at the Aviva Stadium and means he has a clear run at this week's Guinness PRO12 semi-final against Ospreys.

On Monday last week, he got a taste of what's coming when he travelled to London and picked up his Lions swag but it's a different shade of red that's on his mind this week.

"Last Monday was special," he reflected. "It was one of the best days I've ever had, collecting gear, fitting on everything… I took it all in because not everyone gets a chance to get there.

CJ Stander lining out for Ireland during the Six Nations. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
CJ Stander lining out for Ireland during the Six Nations. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

You don't know what's going to happen on tour, just to see everyone... You're involved with the best of the whole of the northern hemisphere. It was good to have everyone there to connect with them, see almost who is going to be your friends on tour.

"All your gear has your name on it on the side, so I have 'CJS' on the side. It is always going to be mine. One day when hopefully I have a daughter or son they can wear it our somewhere or I can just keep it in my closet. That is special.

"You have to put it out of your mind. Because this weekend we have a semi-final, we have to get through that and hopefully get into the final.

"It was good to get that Monday; all that excitement. Now back into Munster, that was great.

"It's in the back of the head now; a lot of (Lions) boys are playing semis and finals, just want to concentrate... I want to concentrate on Munster now because I've never been there.

"There is a lot of excitement, a lot of competition and probably a lot of eyes on those players.

"There is still chance of getting into the team, you need to perform. It helps you if you need a boost to perform."

The return of the Ospreys to Thomond Park for a semi-final on Saturday evokes memories of the Welsh side's near miss at the same venue at the same stage two years ago when Josh Matavesi's late try was ruled out by the Television Match Official.

For Munster, it is a cautionary tale.

"I remember being very tired in that game. I remember walking and them scoring that try," Stander recalled.

"It gave me a good kick up the hole really. I was walking and I should have been close enough to make a difference there. That was the biggest thing from that game. I need to get myself prepared mentally and physically for the game this weekend so I can play for the full 80 and not leave it to a TMO call like that game.

"I nearly had a heart attack watching that play back. We went into the next game and got the s*** kicked out of us in Belfast (in the final).

We went into that semi-final, not complacent, but we were feeling good. When that happened it gave us a good kick, but that didn't help us in the final."

For some, not even Stander's use of the phrase "kick up the hole" will convince them of his right to play for Ireland or the Lions but he knows he can't please everyone and sees the tour as an opportunity to live in and test himself against the elite.

"The first memory I have of the Lions was Pretoria in 2009... it was like an elite club," he said. "That's the best of the best in the northern hemisphere, in the world, just the way they mixed together, that camaraderie, it was the place you wanted to be."

Next month, he'll be there but his immediate focus is on getting that first medal with Munster.

Irish Independent

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