The likely return, possibly from the bench, of Munster’s British & Irish Lions trio of Stander, Conor Murray and captain Peter O’Mahony for their seasonal debuts, is a welcome boost for the province following a 37-15 hammering at Glasgow last Friday as they prepare to face another Conference A rival this weekend.
After a lack of physicality and intensity in Scotstoun, Stander and company have to be straight back on the money against a Cardiff back-row likely to include the powerful Josh Navidi and former Munster No.8 Nick Williams.
“I’m looking forward to playing again, getting the boots back on and onto the pitch,” Stander told munsterrugby.ie. “Training’s been good. You can see there’s been a bit of a step up this year so looking forward to what we can do this year. It was a bit disappointing last week, but look, I’m always looking forward to coming back to the team, laying down my mark and trying to get that jersey back from Jack (O’Donoghue). They’re a physical team, a big team and they’ve got a big back row. We’ve all played against them a good few times. We’ve known about Navidi and Williams the last few years and I think it’s good for us to come back in and test ourselves against some of the best we’ve played against.”
After that dismal performance in last weekend’s Guinness PRO14 round-four visit to Glasgow, Munster could well have done without another potentially tough game next time around.
Yet tomorrow afternoon’s visit of Cardiff to Thomond Park represents exactly that if the Welsh region’s latest Opta team statistics for the new season are anything to go by. Cardiff’s appearance as leaders in the tackle success category with a rate of 92% after four rounds of action and a healthy 29 turnovers which ranks them fourth in the league so far suggests Rassie Erasmus’s side are in for another long shift as they bid to rebound from their 37-15 hammering by Glasgow last Friday night.
Cardiff also rank third in terms of lineout success at 93% while Munster appear just once across the nine Opta categories, with a 97% scrum success rate that puts them second in the league behind a perfect score for Benetton Rugby.
That would underline director of rugby Erasmus’s assertion that Munster’s scrum was the only area in which his team stood up to Glasgow last weekend in what he said was his team’s “worst performance in the last 40 games”.
Yet they will clearly need more than a functioning scrum if they are to get past a Cardiff side which will arrive in Limerick tomorrow lunchtime buoyed not only by a first win of the season last weekend when they came away from Connacht with a 17-15 win but also by the memory of a well-earned victory on their last trip to Munster, last September’s 24-23 league win at Musgrave Park.
“They’re the team that beat us last year at home and when we beat them there it was a two or three pointer where Francis scored that last try,” Erasmus said.
“They’re a physical team, they showed this weekend they can win away from home. They were in the game against Glasgow until the end and missed the penalty to win the game (in round three). So it’s tough.
“The whole season’s going to be tough and this weekend is also a bit of mental pressure for us to get that bounceback after a loss.”