CJ Stander expecting 'spicy' clash in Castres as he recovers from 'dip' in form
CJ Stander remembers enough of the bad days to understand the importance of appreciating a comfortable home win in Europe, especially when it is against the current French champions.
Having gotten rid of some early-season dirty petrol, Stander recaptured his best form in the win over the All Blacks last month before making a try-scoring return for Munster last weekend.
In France tomorrow, the 28-year-old will be central to Munster's game plan, particularly as he looks to get his side over the gain line against a Castres pack that will be gunning for revenge.
All eyes will be on Gloucester and Exeter's clash this evening before attention turns to the south of France where Munster will have a great chance of taking a firm grip on Pool 2.
Johann van Graan will hope that his side don't live to regret not picking up a bonus point come next month as Munster firstly look to get out of the pool and secondly seek a home quarter-final.
There is still a lot of work to be done in that regard and while they will have frustrations, as Stander aptly puts it; you get what you deserve.
"Look, a few years ago we couldn't even win home games in Europe so to get a home win in Europe is massive," the No 8 insists.
"A bonus is a bonus, you get it when it's there but to win was great.
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"The first half was kind of a weird game but it was physical and demanding, and I think second half we came out and fixed a few things and got a few tries, so that was good to get as well."
Stander was unsurprisingly Munster's top carrier (16) at Thomond Park and he will be expected to have at least that in the return game tomorrow.
By his own admission however, the Ireland international had a "dip" in form at the start of the season, but he believes that he has now firmly bounced back.
"I was happy with last weekend, it was nice to get a try from further away than 20 centimetres!
"There are a few things I have to fix and I probably had a lot of stuff off the pitch that was difficult for me over the last few years, but that's my own thing to worry about.
"But game-wise yeah, I'm quite happy with it.
"Look, in this day and age you need to make sure you perform on the pitch and make the people around you feel better.
"I've always tried to push that and my own standards just make sure I keep that up and hopefully don't go back into that dip."
As we saw in Limerick last Saturday, Castres want to frustrate Munster and while they will be expected to play a bit more ball at home, there is plenty of niggle being carried over from previous meetings for what will be the 16th encounter between the two teams.
The Munster coaches and players are mindful of that, so from that end they know how important it is to keep a cool head.
"It will probably spice up," Stander says. "When we played them twice last year that's what we got so I think that will spice it up for sure.
"That's something that we don't really take much notice of, we just make sure we concentrate on our jobs. There's a few boys who squared off but it's just emotions coming up.
"But yeah, for sure, especially with the game they play, they try to frustrate you but you need to concentrate on yourself and make sure you do your job.
"I think they'll probably use the ball a bit more and look, their game plan is their game plan. They enforced it last year down there when we played them, they enforced it a lot more and made it difficult for us to exit from our own half a lot more.
"So we know it's going to be a physical game, they're going to play their game plan as they did last weekend, keep the ball and make us play out of our 22.
"But it's all on us, what we can do and how we can work with that pressure."
Come tomorrow evening, Munster will have a better idea of where they stand in terms of sealing a place in the knockout stages.
And while most people expect Exeter to throw in the towel having not won any of their first three games, Stander has warned about the dangers of writing them off.
"At the start of the year it was a big pool and now we're at a good place where we know now that we can probably get out of it," Stander adds.
"I think you can't get comfortable in this competition because you don't have a lot of games and you don't know what's going to happen at the weekend.
"A lot of people think that Gloucester and Exeter game is going to be interesting, again a lot of people think that Gloucester are going to come away with it, but you never know in this competition.
"Exeter might rip it away and then it's (pool) open again you know, so that's why I like this competition - because it's interesting."