Stander building a legacy with Munster

If CJ Stander brings even half his fiercely competitive nature to bear on Munster’s journey into the lion’s den at Stade Marcel Michelin today, then the province should have nothing to fear from Clermont Auvergne.

The South African-born back row has bounced back from the disappointment of last week’s Thomond Park defeat to the French giants and is planning to turn the tables on the players who gave him and his under-par team-mates such a hard time on Saturday night, just one more step along his chosen path to making his big impact on his adopted province.

“It was a tough loss last weekend, very disappointing but this is a new week, a new game so we’ll move forward and we’re looking forward to it,” said Stander.

“Axel said ‘you can be intimidated or you can be inspired by this’ and for me I just want to get out there and show what I can do. I think that’s the feeling across the board, that if we can fix the small problems and just play our game, when we get into a good place with our game, that’s when we win games playing well. The boys will be up for this challenge.

“I think people go down there already intimidated but we like it tough and we like when the crowd gets behind their team. People say it’s a tough ground but I haven’t heard that this week from the Munster boys.

“We play for each other and for the jersey and we’ve been in tough places before and come out on the right side. Hopefully the same will happen on Sunday.

“We haven’t become a bad team overnight. We know how good we are and what type of game to play and if we can fix the small mistakes.... these weeks in the Champions Cup you have to be on top of your game and so when you’re off by even 2 or 3% against a good team like Clermont, they’ll punish you if you make mistakes. So we have to be 100% all day.”

Stander, 24, has been in Munster for three years now since leaving South Africa’s Blue Bulls, long enough to appreciate the impact an overseas signing like Doug Howlett has made on the province and for him to decide he want to emulate the former All Black wing-turned Munster’s corporate ambassador by leaving a lasting impression beyond the length of his existing contract.

“I’m enjoying Munster, it’s going well and this is where I want to stay and hopefully they’ll sign me again after 2016. I’ll have to put my best foot forward to get that organised,” Stander said.

“A guy like Dougie, he’s a legend. I saw him last weekend and he’s great guy. I’ve got mates over from South Africa and he’ll chat away with them, such a great person and the type of guy I strive to be.

“I don’t think I’d look good in a suit like Dougie but I’ll try to clean up one day! He looks like a CEO or something and I’ll probably look like an old farmer in my old raggies and wellies.

“I don’t want to look too far ahead but if I can make a mark in rugby and for Munster, it would be great.”

If Stander, who becomes eligible for Ireland next November, was to hang around it might be as part of a formidable back row featuring club captain Peter O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell, the trio who will start against Clermont tomorrow, not to mention new signing Robin Copeland, who will occupy the bench.

“The back row with Munster has always been competitive. Before Robin Copeland arrived we already had Chucken (James Coughlan) and Paddy Butler and Sean Dougall and all those guys. This year with Copes arriving its even more competitive but the back three of me, Tommy and Peter is going great so far.

“I just want to play the best I can every week, week in, week out and you have to keep having good days to stay in the team for the next week. That’s good, that keeps me on my toes, because I know if I miss a tackle or have a bad carry, then it will be someone else in the next week.”

Stander, it seems, needs to be kept on his toes, whether it is by the arrival of Robin Copeland in the Munster squad, the prowess of wife Jean Marie on their PlayStation or even his young King Charles Cavaliers and their attempts to eat his rugby boots.

“Robin came in and he’s a great player, he’s played for Ireland and it’s really so competitive. If you’re not on your toes, someone will step in and do a similar or better job. That’s good for me to have that competition. I think I’m still young and it’s good when you’re young to push yourself. I don’t ever want to feel settled because then you’re just there to fill the jersey.

“When I arrived here, someone told me, ‘this jersey is for you but you have to give it back, it’s not yours, you’re only using it for the game until someone else steps in’. That’s good for me. I don’t like comfort zones, that just means you get settled in and it gets easy and you don’t follow through and be the best you can be. It’s good to be pushed, I liked to be pushed every time. Even at home playing PlayStation with my wife, she pushes me to the edge and always wins and I can’t believe I’m so weak at it, but it’s good to be in a competitive household.!”

If Stander appears to the manor born in his Limerick home, it was not always the case. Born and raised on the family farm near George in the Western Cape, he was boarder at Oakdale Agricultural School, which produced Springboks and future Ulstermen Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg before he made the journey to Ireland after a successful stint as South Africa Schools captain to the Blue Bulls in Pretoria.

The subsequent move to Ireland was not a problem in itself but having been brought up speaking only Afrikaans, Stander says he arrived with then fiancee Jean Marie and only a basic knowledge of English but building friendships outside of rugby was just as important as forging working relationships with team-mates.

“It was tough coming here but having my wife here made it a lot easier. She backs me the whole way and everybody around here helped us a lot so it’s great, really. Limerick’s done wonders for us and our relationship. So everything off the pitch is going good and that means everything on the pitch can go great too.

“Coming over you need support and back-up, someone you know to talk to because you can’t walk up to strangers and say, ‘hey, I need to talk to you’. So it’s great to have support outside rugby. I’ve got a few mates outside of rugby in Limerick. It’s great to get away from rugby and talk about their work. That’s good.

“A few of our neighbours call over for cups of tea and a chat, normally about the weather! But it’s good to get away from the rugby now and then, even with the rest of the (Munster) boys, have a coffee together and talk about something else. Watching golf relaxes me a lot. The wife keeps me busy too and we’ve got two young dogs and they’re a handful.

“And there’s a guy who has a farm outside of Limerick and I’ll go and stop by there or just drive around and explore Ireland. Breaking away like that is good for the soul.

“I try to get to different places. We’re into dairy and most Irish farmers are into dairy as well so there’s some similar places I visit. It’s good to get away and see what’s going on and I might just drive around up into country and look around the farms. People think ‘what’s this guy doing here, chasing down sheep and stuff!’ but my life’s good and as I said, if my life’s good then it’s covered on the pitch.”

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