Stander laments lack of consistency in Munster's performances
Published 14/04/2016 | 02:30
CJ Stander made it home to South Africa last week to attend his wife Jean-Marie's graduation, but you sense that the break only did so much to ease the burden on the Munster captain's mind.
The defeat to Leinster weighed heavily on his shoulders, while Saturday's game against Connacht was always looming. The trip helped charge the batteries for the rest of a season which will eventually end back in his homeland, but the Ireland international's focus is all on keeping his province in Europe's elite next season.
Amid all the speculation about having a new structure in place for next season, the squad and Anthony Foley have three games to rescue this campaign, starting with their trip to the Sportsground to face the Guinness Pro12 front-runners.
Munster are a point clear of seventh-placed Edinburgh who face Leinster tomorrow and visit Cork in two weeks' time. A win in that fixture could be enough for last year's finalists, but beating Connacht would ease their burden substantially and give them an outside shot at the play-offs their season scarcely deserves. "There have been a few matches when we didn't pitch up and a few matches where we played some good rugby, but throughout the season, the consistency was up and down," Stander said of the campaign.
"You think that a Munster red jersey is always going to get into the finals or semi-finals so it is a bit of a surprise not getting there.
"But that's where people need to take the onus on themselves and work hard to give the team the opportunity to get there and I think that's what we lacked in a few games during the year."
Pat Lam's side famously won in Limerick earlier this season and everyone at Munster is aware of what's coming. "After 29 years, yeah, they won at Thomond Park. It was disappointing, there wasn't a lot of talk (in the dressing-room)," he recalled. "We didn't have the ball at all in the first half and didn't use it when we had it in the second. There were a lot of opportunities but we just let them play and came out and physically beat us up.
"We lacked a bit of physicality and every player knows we let ourselves down that day in Thomond Park. There was a lot of disappointment so there is a lot of motivation for a chance to get revenge."
Bundee Aki was Connacht's match-winner that day and Stander has admired his fellow project player's work. "He gets himself into every game and lifts all those around him," he said. "He can do anything, one of those who can play anywhere. He's physical, always goes in 100pc, big hits and tackles.
"If you run at him, you know it's going to be a big match-up. They have a good team, playing great rugby and you have to look after those guys."