Stander, who was head-hunted by the province after the double blow of losing David Wallace and Denis Leamy, arrived in Ireland during the early hours of this morning and will spend today going through a battery of medical and fitness tests before being cleared to take up a two year contract.
Having spent an exhausting number of weeks helping South African provincial side the Blue Bulls to the semi-final of the Currie Cup, Stander won’t be asked to participate in Munster’s away RaboDirect Pro12 fixture to Cardiff Blues this weekend, but instead be allowed blend in over the next couple of weeks before being made available for a home tie in two weeks against the Scarlets.
Nevertheless, Fitzgerald is expecting good things from the 22-year-old former Springbok U20 skipper, who was reluctantly let go by the Bulls. Although the injuries to Wallace and Leamy forced Munster into a frantic search for a replacement, and Stander’s availability is down to his status as a Project Player (somebody who down the line could be available for Ireland), he comes with an impressive CV.
Much of the behind the scenes ground work to persuade him to travel was done by former Munster player and team manager Shaun Payne, but he had already been identified by other analysts/scouts within the Irish squad.
“Apart from his reputation and track record, the plus for us is that he is a young player and therefore is a long term option, although initially he is here on a two-year contract,” said Fitzgerald yesterday. “We look forward to welcoming him to Munster and we’re confident he will make a big impact in any position across the back row he is asked to fill.”
Munster’s gain is the Bulls loss according to the club’s chief executive Barend van Graan: “We are very disappointed to lose CJ, who was very much part of our future planning. Quality players like him who have shown tremendous leadership abilities don’t come around very often. Accordingly, it was not a surprise to hear about his overseas offer; we would have loved to have had him with us well into the future but, I suppose, it makes financial sense for CJ to accept the Munster offer.”
The loose head had been identified by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer as part of a group of players who trained along with the Springboks squad to gain experience. These were players whom Meyer believed could become internationals of the future. That would appear to justify Munster’s decision to snap him up.