Wednesday 17 October 2018

'You can't get over that sometimes' - CJ Stander recalls painful moment that motivated Munster

Chris Farrell and CJ Stander of Munster after the Guinness PRO14 Round 13 match between Munster and Connacht at Thomond Park
Chris Farrell and CJ Stander of Munster after the Guinness PRO14 Round 13 match between Munster and Connacht at Thomond Park
CJ Stander Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Munster's win over Connacht was crucial for several reasons, but on a personal level the victory meant that bit more to CJ Stander.

Stopping the rot of two straight defeats before the Champions Cup resumes was important enough in itself, while at the same time beating the Westerners gave Johann van Graan his first inter-provincial victory.

In November 2015, when Connacht beat Munster in Limerick for the first time in 29 years, Stander captained the home side and that sinking feeling has stayed with him since.

Stander dredged up the unhappy memory on his own accord in the build-up last week but he a cut a much more satisfied figure setting the record straight on Saturday night.

With Peter O'Mahony rested, Stander again led Munster and this time he emerged victorious, which went a long way to help banishing the demons.

"It is something that stays with you," he admitted.

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"You can't get over that sometimes. I remember that day coming back in the changing-room and everyone was down, 'Axel' (Anthony Foley) wasn't happy at all. It stays in the back of your head. I felt that if I could lead a team from the front then it wouldn't happen again.

"As I said during the week, they played exceptionally well that year and at the end of it (the league) won it. That try they scored at the end (of the match to beat us) was exceptional.

"They were a great team. We made sure that we didn't give them momentum in their carries.

"We wanted to stop them. They had a few good plays and showed that they can hurt teams."

After defeats to Leinster and Ulster, the landscape now looks much brighter for Munster as they travel to Paris this weekend looking to take a big step towards the knockout stages.

Munster had a point to prove against Connacht and while it was by no means a flawless display, there was a lot to admire in the manner in which they tore the Westerners asunder in the second half.

"You don't want to lose, that's for sure, especially in the inter-pros," Stander continued. "We did quite well last year but zero from four is not good enough.

We spoke about it this week and I said it, if you want to get selected going into Europe and for the Irish team, you have to win these derby games.

"You need to play well because the other guy is going to play his game and play well. You have to look after you own job.

"Losing is a habit. It doesn't matter on the scoreboard if you lose momentum and lose the contact area that's going to keep on going; hopefully this can push us on, we can go to Paris and push on from what we have here.

"This is going to give us a boost and we just need to make sure that all the boys are fresh going into Sunday."

Recalling several of the key leaders, including Stander, after the capitulation in Belfast a week ago, brought an added edge to Munster and they will need that and more against Racing on Sunday.

"I think four of us looked up," Stander explained.

"Me, Murr (Murray), Keats (Keatley) and Earlsy (Earls) and we just said to each other, 'we can't let happen what happened (lose) last week. So we just kicked on.

"I think we played two good halves unlike the last two weeks. It's good to get that behind us and be consistent hopefully going into the next two weeks.

"I think against Ulster we lost one or two leaders in the second half and a few voices were missing.

"A lot of boys will have learned from that and we have to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"We need to have team leaders and when we lose them we need to make sure one or two others are there to step up.

"It's not that we needed confidence - that was there for the last four or five weeks - it was a case of creating those opportunities and getting something out of it, the tries and the points.

"It was a night for us to try a few things, some worked and some didn't, so hopefully we'll push on again."

Having put so much focus on it last week, Munster's discipline improved but like their overall performance, there was still room for improvement, according to Stander. "When you play professional rugby, you know that if you give away more than 10 penalties that you are going to struggle," he reasoned.

"It's something we spoke about the last few weeks... if it's effort, then it's all right, but if it's a skill error for not rolling away, I gave one away, sometimes you get caught in the wrong position.

"But you need to work harder, make better tackles and better carries and look after the ball."

That's the no-nonsense approach Stander & Co will take to Paris this weekend.

Irish Independent

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