He has tried on the gear and met his fellow tourists but now CJ Stander has switched his attention away from the British and Irish Lions selection and back to helping Munster’s bid for the Guinness PRO12 title.
While those 2017 Lions not involved in either the Pro12 or English Premiership semi- finals this weekend have been in camp with Warren Gatland and his assistant coaches at the Vale of Glamorgan for the past three days, Stander has been in his province preparing for Saturday’s Thomond Park semi-final against Ospreys.
Yet while the excitement of attending last week’s one-day Player Administration Day for the 41-man touring party to New Zealand has given him a boost on his return to Munster alongside fellow Lions Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony, the Ireland back rower knows he must park the experience and focus on the chase for end of season silverware.
“Last Monday (in London) was special, it was one of the best days I’ve ever had collecting gear, I tried on everything,” Stander said. “I took it all in because you don’t get, not everyone gets a chance to get there, you don’t know what’s going to happen on tour, just see everyone, you’re involved with the best of the whole of the northern hemisphere.
“It was good to have everyone there to connect with them, see almost who is going to be your friends on tour. It was a great day, it was special.” Of all the gear he received, the 27-year-old said: “The nicest thing was the cuff links and the pocket squares, I’ve never had a few pocket squares, that was quite nice.
“All the bags, all your gear has your name on it on the side, so I have ‘CJS’ on the side. It is always going to be mine.” Yet he added: “You have to put it out of your mind. This weekend we have a semi-final, we have to get through that and hopefully get into the final. So you need to put it out of your head.”
Aside from the Munster contingent, there will be four Ospreys - Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb, and Dan Biggar – this Saturday with aspirations of a Test place against the All Blacks, with the three-game series starting on June 24 in Auckland.
“There is a lot of excitement, a lot of competition and probably a lot of eyes on those players. There is still a chance of getting into the team or not getting into the team, you need to perform. It helps you if you need a boost to perform.”
Among the eight Munstermen named yesterday in the Ireland squad to tour the US and Japan next month, there will be some who had ambitions of making the Lions squad themselves but Stander said both elation and disappointment would be secondary to serving the Munster cause this weekend.
“We are in a place now where everyone in the whole squad will want the best for this team, so sure there are people who have disappointment, but if someone has disappointment they don’t show it in front of the players, or excitement.
“I think everyone wants the best for this place now and for the jersey. Probably a few years ago, a lot of people said it but didn’t do it, but now everyone is doing it and it makes it a special place. They just want the best for the team and for training.”
Facing an Ospreys side which will be boosted by the return to fitness of Wales captain and second row Jones and boasting several Welsh Test stars who missed the the home and away league defeats inflicted by Munster this season, will also serve to focus the minds, said Stander, who remembers a narrow escape against the Welsh region in a PRO12 semi-final two years ago, when it needed a disallowed try at the death to deny the visitors at Thomond.
“I remember giving an intercept pass from the base of a scrum to Rhys Webb. We had a move for a couple of weeks, that we thought would work. I called it and Rhys just ran in under the posts. I felt bad for about 10 minutes after that.
“I mean, you are playing in a semi-final and that was an easy seven points for them. I remember being very tired in that game. I remember walking and them scoring that try. It gave me a good kick up the hole really. I was walking and I should have been close enough to make a difference there. So that was the biggest thing from that game. I need to get myself prepared mentally and physically for the game this weekend so I can play for the full 80 and not leave it to a TMO call like that game.”
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