Stander targeting league glory - and then Irish cap
Published 01/05/2015 | 02:30
The short-term goal is undoubtedly glory in the red jersey but Munster's first overseas player to win their Player of the Year gong has a bigger target later in the year and CJ Stander is determined to go for it.
The 25-year-old from the Western Cape in South Africa crowned a superb season yesterday when he was selected as Munster's best and he said he is deeply honoured with the award.
But while there is scarcely room on his creaking mantelpiece for another accolade - he has five man-of-the-match awards from the Pro12 campaign alone this season - he said he would gladly sweep them all off to win a medal with Munster in the next few weeks.
Anthony Foley's men travel to Ulster tomorrow week in the driving seat for a home semi-final in the Pro12 and the bustling back-rower would love to end his third campaign in Ireland with silverware.
"It would be great to get a team award. That is what we work for. I have just got an individual award now but everyone is just working as a team to get to the final and it would be great," he said.
"That is why we are playing and that is what we work for, for the whole year. It is on our cards now and hopefully we can push through and get the home semi-final and get through to the final," said Stander, who made his debut against Scarlets in November 2012, and who has scored 17 tries in 56 appearances for Munster.
Yesterday, he became the first overseas player in the ninth year of the awards to be named player of the year, and it will always hold a special place for him.
"For me, it's huge; it is my first rugby award in my professional career and to get it for Munster, in a Munster jersey, it's just unreal and I still can't believe it," he said.
Eleven awards were presented at the function, which was attended by over 270 people, including the entire Munster professional squad.
Hooker Duncan Casey won the Young Player of the Year, Jack O'Donoghue won the Academy honour, Ciara Griffin the Women's award, and former Lions player and coach Noel Murphy was chosen as the Hall of Fame winner.
Referee of the Year is Andy Brace, while Young Munster (senior), Clonmel (junior), Ennis (club youth), and Listowel (club mini) won the club awards, with Bandon Grammar selected as the School of the Year in the province.
But while Stander has another gong to put to his collection and will be stepping up his drive for a Pro12 medal, later this year he becomes Irish-qualified and he is hopeful of keeping up the performances which would give him a shot at an Irish cap.
"I qualify in November and it would be good to one day, if I get the chance and I am good enough to put on a green jersey.
"It was in the talks, they signed me as a project player so it was the idea after. I just put it away for the last two-and-a-half years and we will see when the time comes what happens.
"For now I am just working on getting through the year, getting to the semis and to the final.
"We are pushing again, we are in the semi-final just pushing to get a home one. We have got two games left and Ulster is going to be the point to rise up against them and see where we are and where they are because that is what's going to happen with semi or the final.
"We have got Dragons after that and hopefully a home semi-final and then on to Kingspan Stadium and the final," added Stander.
Meanwhile, Munster captain Peter O'Mahony said the changes to the Pro12 structure have made it a better competition, not least as it decides qualification and seeding for Europe.
"It certainly has added a different dimension and it's been incredibly competitive from the first week up until now," he said.
"We're fighting for a home semi-final. We want to come first in the league and we want to go on and win it."
O'Mahony said that while Munster would obviously prefer to be in European action at this time of year, the weekends without games allowed them more time to prepare for an assault on the Pro12 title.
Munster lifted the title in 2011 - the last time they were knocked out of Europe's premier competition at the pool stage.