CJ Stander happy to put hand up and leave Ireland call to Schmidt

As you would expect to hear from a Munster captain, CJ Stander was putting team above the personal as the pressure valves were released at Thomond Park.

Yet as another man of the match award puts the structural integrity of the Stander mantelpiece to the test it is increasingly difficult to ignore the performances of this particular individual and the contribution he is making to his province through testing times.

Even more so with the RBS 6 Nations looming large and the Ireland coach watching in the stands.

Joe Schmidt was in Limerick on Saturday to get a final look at the potential Munster members of the squad he will name this week for the bid to make it an historic three titles in a row.

Given the trials and tribulations in the province and the poor individual form of many of its frontline players, Schmidt may have been allowing himself the opportunity to conclusively strike a few names from his longlist.

It is doubtful, though, that the national head coach’s red pencil was ever hovering over Stander’s.

His three-year qualification period completed last November, just as Munster’s season went into a nosedive, the South African-born back row has been leading by example throughout his team’s awful run of six defeats in seven matches.

On Saturday, the rest began to catch up and the stand-in captain got the satisfaction of leading them to their much-needed victory.

It could well propel him into a green jersey in three weeks when Schmidt picks his team for the home opener against Wales on February 7, his powerhouse performance putting him firmly in the running for Ireland’s matchday squad and perhaps a starting spot in the absence of the injured Peter O’Mahony, whose Munster captaincy he is currently minding with impressive care.

Stander, 25, has already been introduced to the national set-up following his invitation to Ireland’s 48-player mini-camp at Carton House over the New Year holiday and despite Munster’s struggles has done nothing to suggest he might be overlooked by Schmidt this time around. ”

Stander is understandably cautious about tempting fate regarding his Ireland prospects, saying: “I said when I got the residency out of the way that I just wanted to stick up my hand and my hand is there.

"If I get selected it’s good but in my game there is a lot I still need to work on.”

That he is an option at all would represent quite the turnaround in fortunes for the former South Africa U20 captain who left his homeland in search of wider recognition after being told he was to small to make it as a Springbok loose forward.

“They pushed me to play hooker in South Africa, I’m not going to mention names, they pushed me to be a No.2, I’m not big enough to be a loose forward and this and this, it really... I always thought I was big enough to play rugby, it doesn’t matter where I play.

"But it was difficult to hear that stuff, I mean, how do you get taller – do you get stretched up?

“So, it’s good to get recognition, and to show them they’re wrong, the guys that told me that, it’s good to show them they’re wrong.”

South Africa’s loss should be Ireland’s gain and if Stander does make it he will have the presence and empathy of fellow exile Richardt Strauss to help the transition to the Test arena.

“We got into camp, it was good to have him there,” Stander said of the Leinster hooker capped 13 times by his adopted country.

“He spoke Afrikaans to me, I spoke English back. He’s probably going to give me a few tips, it’s good to have someone there who’s gone through what I probably have to go through.”

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