‘It’s good to test the strength of the jersey collars and see how far they can stretch!’

For Felipe Contepomi it’s on a par with River Plate v Boca Juniors; for CJ Stander and Johann van Graan a reminder of Bulls versus Stormers games.

‘It’s good to test the strength of the jersey collars and see how far they can stretch!’

For Felipe Contepomi it’s on a par with River Plate v Boca Juniors; for CJ Stander and Johann van Graan a reminder of Bulls versus Stormers games.

What they can all agree on is that Leinster versus Munster games stands tall among world rugby’s great rivalries.

The latest coming together takes place in Dublin at the RDS tomorrow afternoon when the old rivals go toe-to-toe in the Guinness PRO14 semi-finals.

And given the fevered emotions of their most recent meeting, last December 29 at Thomond Park as Munster gained vengeance for their Aviva Stadium defeat earlier in the season, this weekend’s installment will be not just a high-stakes contest but a high-intensity one.

Munster No 8 Stander can barely contain his excitement, having captained his side to a 26-17 win in a testy affair in Limerick five months ago.

“It’s a semi-final, you don’t want to push the boat too far but yeah, down there it was on the line a few times and a few things coming up,” Stander said. “There is always a lot of spice in these games, a few things happen and that’s what makes this game interesting.

I enjoyed it. A few times I was far away (from the flashpoints) and I enjoyed looking at it and a few times I was nearby and got stuck in. They’re the games you enjoy, the physical ones. It’s good to get out and test the strength of the jersey collars and see how far they can stretch!

“We’re all mates off the pitch and we all train together in the Irish set-up but when we step onto that pitch it’s Munster against Leinster.”

The view is the same from the other side of the divide, from where former Leinster fly-half and now backs coach Contepomi sees this derby rivalry.

The Argentine has savoured West Country derbies in England while a Bristol player and in France as Stade Francais player against Parisian rivals Racing while his time at Toulon saw the dawning of a new rivalry with Toulouse.

Yet Leinster versus Munster, he said, was something different again.

“It’s got so much history and it has families divided, not just places,” Contepomi said. “It’s not like towns with Bristol or Toulon playing Bath or Toulouse.

“In Ireland, some Munster people have had to leave to go in Dublin, their kids are now raised in Dublin and the other way around. So families are divided, it makes it very special.

“It reminds of me of River v Boca. Inside families, there are people devoted to each club. You really want to beat each other even though there are in your own family. Independiente v racing, a couple of hundred metres from each other. So you have situations like the Cronins (Leinster hooker Sean and Munster scrum-half Neil) or the Fogartys (former hookers John and Denis) playing each other. It’s not just about the town or place you grow up but the family you belong to.”

Stander recalls his earliest rugby days in the South African schools’ system as a student had their dicier moments but it was as a young professional at the Bulls he believes he came of age.

“Bulls v Stormers is a big game. I wouldn’t say I was a man before, I will be a dad soon. But in that game, there were men going at each other. And this game is even bigger than that.

I was from the coast but now it’s back to the Bulls.” Munster boss van Graan was a part of the Bulls coaching set-up and he added: “I remember exactly what he was talking about, I respected those players so much.

“CJ was a new kid on the block. There was a game when the Bulls played the Western Province, a three o’clock game at Loftus (Versfeld). Two of the loosies from the Stormers that day were (Francois) Louw and (Duane) Vermeulen, they just welcomed CJ to Loftus and Currie Cup rugby. He had blood all over his face.”

Stander continued: “That was the first day I learned about respect. They broke my nose and then pulled me off the ground. They shook my hand while they ran off. My parents were there as well, I lasted 20 minutes. You have to break your nose sometimes to test yourself.”

“It is rivalries and healthy respect afterwards. And you laugh about it now. Sometimes we lose it. The first time I was here I talked with Felipe and we all just want to present the best of ourselves in Irish rugby. This will be a massive derby and (then) we’ll shake our hands.”

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