Sport Munster Rugby

Friday 23 February 2018

Stander eager to deliver quarter-final to 'special' Thomond Park

Crowd pleaser: CJ Stander. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Crowd pleaser: CJ Stander. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

As became increasingly evident over the last two seasons when the crowds stayed away, Thomond Park was built to house big occasions.

When full, the Limerick citadel is a match for any venue in Europe and news that Munster can count on the backing of another full house for the visit of Racing 92 on Saturday will boost the coffers and provide an appropriate back-drop for the confirmation of their return to the big time.

All that's left is to beat the French champions - who are almost certainly going to send over an under-strength side - and earn the right to return to Limerick for a home quarter-final for the first time since 2014.

That last knock-out win was a day to remember as Rob Penney's Reds overwhelmed Toulouse, with Paul O'Connell getting in on the scoring as if to ram home the sense of feelgood factor.

In the seasons that followed, that buzz was eroded quickly but the re-awakening of the Munster beast in the aftermath of Anthony Foley's passing has brought with it the right to host big occasions once again.

CJ Stander came off the bench in the first half of that Toulouse win and earned the man of the match award, a memory he spoke fondly of last week.

Now he and his team-mates can ride their momentum all the way to the same stage and the same venue and can hope for more of the same backing.

"It's a special place. It's a sea of red and I'm massively proud to be in a set up like this, where you see supporters that keep giving everything," Stander said.

"You don't want to disappoint them, it's a special place and I think everyone's going to want to work hard to get back there (for a quarter-final). But on the flip side, if we don't get there we'll just keep on doing what we're doing and keep up the hard work."

Munster's work-ethic is a theme that Stander returns to frequently as he looks to explain his side's change in fortunes this season.

"Everyone works hard for each other and when someone is not having a great day, people around them hold them up. And if you make a mistake, everyone's around you.

"There's maybe a few words here and there but we work hard for each other because we know what the goal is and where we need to be.

"You need to work hard in that jersey and make it proud for the boys next to you because you don't want to disappoint them and the supporters and especially the coaches."

Stander reserves special mention for the backroom team who have guided Munster to the top of Pool 1 under Rassie Erasmus' shrewd tutelage.

"Rassie just wants us to go out there and play our game and enjoy it," he said. "He want you to try your best and try something and make it work and if we fail, well, if we've worked hard at it he's happy with it - and if we go at it half-arsed he's not happy.

"He's a direct man. He brings excitement but also he brings planning so we come in on a Monday to work hard for the week, and come Saturday you just want to be physical and perform for him, Jacques (Nienaber), Felix (Jones) and Fla' (Jerry Flannery) because they work so hard during the week to make sure we can perform on the weekend.

"We still need to go out and work hard next weekend. You need to pitch up every week and if you don't it's going to disappoint yourself.

"If we don't pitch up during the week and don't train well it's going to be a tough weekend."

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