CJ Stander says Anthony Foley is continuing to inspire Munster and the province’s players have vowed to do something special in Foley’s memory this season.
And Stander emphasised they will not lack incentive as they head to Galway on Saturday to take on a Connacht side who turned them over twice last season.
Stander, who notched his 28th try in his 90th appearance in the 29-17 win over Leinster, may have to sit out the trip to the Sportsground as part of the IRFU’s player welfare programme. But the South African native insists the entire Munster squad is driven since the shock death of Foley in October.
That drive was certainly there in Thomond last Monday, Stander revealing there was an extra incentive going into the clash against their biggest rivals as Leinster had beaten them 25-14 just a week before Foley’s death.
“It was tough, especially it was the last time Axel coached us, and he wasn’t happy with the way we performed. So we said we were going to perform for him for the rest of the year and we stood up and showed the big man again against Leinster.
“We spoke the whole week about getting out and performing better than we did last week (against Leicester). I thought we let ourselves down last week with physicality, but the forwards stepped up against Leinster. It was one of the big ones. These derbies are massive.”
Munster lost to Connacht at Thomond Park last season for the first time in the professional era when Pat Lam’s men scored an 18-12 just over a year ago. And then when Foley brought the Reds to the Sportsground in April they met a Connacht team in full flow on their way to their historic PRO12 crown and were blown away 35-14.
But the tables are reversed this time around with Munster going to Galway as league leaders with nine wins from 11 games, while Connacht are floundering in eighth having won just four league matches.
And Stander, who now has 10 Irish caps since making his debut earlier this year against Wales in the Six Nations, has urged Munster supporters to make the short trip to Galway, having packed out Thomond Park on Monday night.
“It’s massive, you can hear them on the pitch. In the last 20, they push you and give you energy and then always travel good. It’s always good to see the red wave at our away games. It’s important for them to travel with us. We take energy from them,” added Stander.
Meanwhile, Stander’s Ireland colleague Quinn Roux is hopeful a string of big performances for Connacht can bring him back into Six Nations contention.
The 26-year old made his Irish debut against his native South Africa in the second test in Johannesburg, during the summer. But that remains his only appearance for his adopted country and he did not feature during the November series, having been injured at the start of the season.
Now Roux hopes he can play his way back into Joe Schmidt’s plans, starting on Saturday. “At the moment I need to play games consecutively, week in week out and put in good performances. Then hopefully I can put up my hand,” Roux said.
“I thought I had been going well over the last couple of weeks, getting good minutes and putting in good performances. I need to be consistent and to stay fit, to make myself available for the internationals.”
The sold-out Sportsground derby will be followed by January dates away to Ospreys in the league and then Champions Cup encounters against Zebre and Toulouse, when Roux will hope to play his part in Connacht’s bid to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
“They are the big games you want to play in. Those are the ones where you need to perform and do well especially the basic stuff for whatever position you play in. Hopefully, we can all put in the performance needed.”
It’s been a memorable year for the Pretoria native who recently signed a new two-year contract extension at the Sportsground.
“It was easy for me. I love Galway. I have played my best rugby since I moved to Galway. I have enjoyed my rugby. Me and my fiancée are enjoying it very much here, so it was an easy decision for me, especially on the back of other players deciding that they were going to sign on, even after we found out that Pat is going to leave.
“There is a good group of players here, hopefully we can take what Pat has done here over the last few years and move forward with whoever comes here next.”
But first priority is to get back to winning ways after the PRO12 champions fell to a 23-7 defeat away to Ulster, and Roux knows this is the kind of fixture where Connacht can send another big statement.
“We have to win on Saturday. We are at home. We can’t use any excuse with injuries or anything, we just have to step up and put on a performance for the home crowd.”
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