‘No mixed emotions’ – Ex-Munster CJ Stander doesn’t miss the game but wants his former team to win URC final
Ex-Munster and Ireland back-row CJ Stander insists there will be no mixed emotions for him personally if his former team beat the Stormers in Saturday’s URC final and land the province’s first trophy since 2011.
Stander shocked the rugby world by announcing his retirement two years ago, but he is very content with his decision, as he hopes to see Munster end their long wait for silverware.
The 33-year-old was a crowd favourite at Thomond Park during nine-year stay, and while he would almost certainly have remained a key man for Munster heading into this weekend’s final, he has no regrets about hanging up his boots.
“Munster need this. Not just for the team, but in general, for Cork, Limerick, the Munster province in general,” Stander said, speaking on a media call for the BKT United Rugby Championship (URC).
“Just to get that belief back that all that hard work over the last eight or nine years hasn’t been for nothing.
“I don’t miss the game, but I do miss these weekends because the craic afterwards, the few beers, and all the hard work in the years of disappointment, you’re going to sit there and, hopefully, win the final and celebrate with your mates. That’s the part I miss.
“But it’s still going to be a tough game. Watching the Connacht game, the Stormers know the way they want to play. They play from anywhere and they are very good at it.
“They scored two tries that looked like nothing was on, so Munster need to be ready for that from the start.
“But to answer your question, no mixed emotions, just immensely proud to be in a final and having a great chance to win it.”
With Munster set to welcome back a host of key players from injury, Stander believes Graham Rowntree’s side are well set to cause an upset at the home of the defending URC champions.
“When I saw that list of players getting on to the plane, it was good to see, especially guys like Conor Murray, RG (Snyman) and Malakai (Fekitoa),” Stander continued.
“It brings a boost to the squad. You see the energy that Munster have got in the last few weeks from beating the Stormers in Cape Town and then going to Dublin and beating Leinster.
“It’s going to be a cracking final, I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully it will be a bit wet then Munster will have the upper-hand, but we’ll see.”
Legendary Springboks centre Jean de Villiers, who enjoyed spells with Munster and the Stormers, recalled his fond memories of his time in Ireland.
Like Stander, De Villiers believes Munster are in a great place heading to Cape Town this weekend, particularly having beaten the Stormers at the DHL Stadium last month.
“I’ve never gone into a game the way that I feel this time around, where I think it’s a win-win for me,” De Villiers (42) said.
“Even though I spent most of my career playing for the Stormers, the season I had with Munster was one that I rate very high in terms of my career. I really do have a passion for Munster.
“They have actually been the form team for me, towards the end of the URC.
“If you look at the way that they got absolutely blown off the park in Durban in the Heineken Cup game, then they came back to South Africa.
"They beat the Stormers in Cape Town, they drew with the Sharks in Durban and obviously beat Glasgow and Leinster in the quarter and semi-final.
“So, they have been on a run where I think from a mental point of view, they are in a place where they must feel extremely strong and extremely positive.
“And that is worth gold. If you’re going into a final, away from home, but you have proven in the last couple of weeks that you can do it.
“There is a difference between thinking you can win a game and knowing you can win a game because you have done it before on different territory.
“And I think that is the attitude Munster will have going into this game. The fact that they have all of those players back is great.
“It’s quite a difficult position for Graham Rowntree to be in because which combinations does he go with? You just look at the 10-12 combination that played last time and how well that worked for them eventually.
“But with Malakai Fekitoa coming in, do you start him? And so many other things as well.
“So, I think Munster have got so much going for them and the fact that they have done it before here in South Africa will give them massive, massive confidence going into this game,” De Villiers added.
“It’s about being able to replicate that again and also knowing that the team on the other side wants to rectify the mistakes they made in the previous game.
“All of that just sets us up for a fantastic final.”