CJ Stander has already participated in one home defeat at the start of this new Guinness PRO12 campaign and the Munster back row does not intend to add another when the province makes its seasonal debut at Thomond Park against Edinburgh on Saturday.
Stander made his own first appearance of the season in round two a fortnight ago, when Munster went down narrowly to Cardiff Blues in Cork. Losing at Thomond Park this weekend is unthinkable, particularly given the stated pre-season objective of returning their Limerick stadium to stronghold status after a season of damaging reverses in key games on home soil, against Leicester in Europe, and to inter-provincial rivals Connacht and Leinster in the PRO12.
“We kept on saying last year that you want to make your home a fortress and win all your games and we couldn’t,” Stander said. “So that (Cardiff) game is always going to hang over us to use as an example, that feeling we had after the match, in the match, just the way we didn’t use our opportunities.
“It was not ideal at all to lose that but it was a great, well not great, but an opportunity to know what we did wrong and where we need to be going into a game like this, this weekend.
“We want to make Thomond Park a fortress. We slipped up the first night but hopefully this weekend we can step up and change that.” Stander came off the bench at Musgrave Park against the Blues but could not prevent a 24-23 defeat to the Welsh region. Munster did rebound well, however, Stander starting at No.8 in last Saturday’s victory at Newport Gwent Dragons, the second away win of the season in as many starts on Welsh soil after the opening-day success at Scarlets.
It helped get back the feelgood factor in the Munster camp sparked by a new management group led by director of rugby Rassie Erasmus with defence coach Jacques Nienaber and backs coach Felix Jones joining head coach Anthony Foley and scrum coach Jerry Flannery on the ticket.
“There’s something different within the team and the group, I can’t put my finger on it yet but we’ll see later on in the season,” Stander said, adding of Erasmus: “He’s a straightforward guy, he’s a straight shooter.
“What’s impressed me the most is his knowledge of the game, he knows the game inside and outside. There’s stuff he knows about the tactical side of games — he made a bet with us earlier in pre-season, I think it was about the Super Rugby final. He gave us a stat and he said ‘this team’s going to win’ and it happened.
“So the knowledge he has off the pitch, in the statistics and what you need to do to win a game, that impresses me the most.
“And the way he handles the people he works with, him and Jacques, they were straight in, fitting like a glove. I knew that was going to be the case but it’s good to see that it’s working.” Stander’s hope is that the new regime can help him push on and further his international ambitions having won seven caps under Joe Schmidt since making his debut in the Six Nations last March after qualifying for Ireland on residency grounds last November.
“I always set goals. Firstly I just wanted to get back through pre-season and get my body fit again, get all the niggles gone and then I started thinking about the next goals. Literally the next goals are performing for Munster week in, week out, getting used to the pace again.
“Then at international level, getting onto to that plane to go to Chicago and playing New Zealand (on November 5). They’re on a good streak now so that will be some match to be involved in.” So too would a summer tour to New Zealand with the British & Irish Lions, when Warren Gatland takes a squad into the world champions’ den next June and July looking for a first series win against the All Blacks since 1971.
As a naturalised Irishman, Stander admitted it has become an ambition to become a Lion only since his arrival in Ireland from South Africa’s Blue Bulls almost four years ago.
“Yeah, for sure. I think when I was a youngster I saw these teams coming to South Africa and you think that’s the ultimate. It’s class to get in there.
“When I arrived here it wasn’t really in my mind but then everyone started talking about it and it can happen, so it’s a goal for sure. It just depends how much and how good I can perform over the next few months.”
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