The roar and soaring stands of Thomond Park, the aura of the city as a sporting bear-pit, the passionate and knowledgeable support from the fans.
There’s no shortage of rugby reasons to set up home in Limerick.
But for Munster’s new South African back row recruit, CJ Stander, the availability of a 50m pool at the University of Limerick was the clincher.
Stander makes his first competitive start for the province in tonight’s Pro 12 clash with Glasgow at Thomond Park, but it was his fiancée Jean Marie Neethling who had eyes only for the city when it came to settling down in Cork or Limerick.
Neethling, who hails from a family of high achievers, hopes to represent South Africa in swimming in the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.
She is already taking advantage of the facility in UL following her return to full-time training after injury; she is set to move to Ireland full-time in advance of the couple’s wedding next June. Family from both sides are expected to enjoy Christmas here, too.
Stander joked yesterday that he’s been putting in a lot of extra time in the pool lately as he described his girlfriend’s potential. “She’s a very good swimmer. She has had a few injuries but if she puts her mind to it, she will go to Rio. She’s training hard so it’s good.”
Neethling failed to make the cut for the 2008 Games in Beijing after contracting measles in the build-up to the South African trials, and was injured prior to the London Games.
CJ Stander warms up with the team as play is suspended, about to make his Munster debut #MunSca— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) November 25, 2012
Stander says: “She came over two weeks ago and is staying, swimming, and training in UL. We’re getting married in June so she will (probably) come and stay here permanently (before then).”
Swimming is very much in the Neethling family. The 22-year-old Jean Marie is sister of Ryk Neethling, who won an Olympic gold in the 4x100m freestyle at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The 35-year-old is a former joint holder of the 4x100 freestyle relay world record and holds several South African records.
Stander is acclimatising to life in Ireland’s rugby capital: “The first two days were a bit tough. However, Wian Du Preez and BJ Botha showed me the ropes, sorted me out for a house and a car, and now I’m settling in. Limerick’s a nice town and the people here are nice. Everywhere I walk the fans are greeting me with happy smiles and banter.”
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