Every award that comes the way of CJ Stander counts on his CV. Take seven Man of the Match gongs last season and another in Saturday’s opening Guinness Pro12 clash with Benetton Treviso as just some of the recent entries for the South African back-rower.
Stander’s two second-half tries were crucial in helping Munster overcome a difficult obstacle at Musgrave Park as 5,400 plus fans waited and waited for the floodgates to open. In the end, they had to be happy with the win rather than an exceptional performance.
Stander, though, is fast becoming one of the leaders in this Munster squad and was quite emotional at being given the captain’s armband for the Treviso match.
“It’s massive. When I captained the team in the warm-up games that was big for my family back home and I get emotional to lead a team like this. It’s the best feeling of my life.
“There are a few boys in front of me who led the team and to get a competitive captaincy under the belt was great. But, as I say, I just want to play my game and lead with the way I play.
“I don’t want to talk too much, I think I showed on the pitch what I can do.”
In the aftermath of the game, Stander underlined his ability to assess exactly what happened on the pitch.
Munster showed promise at times, were deserving victors, but eventually won by just five points on an 18-13 scoreline. If Treviso hadn’t already run out of time when they collected the last three points, there could have been a worrying climax.
“Good and bad in the first game of the year,” admitted Stander.
“It was our first competitive game after going through pre-season having lost two and won one, but I think there was a lot of stuff left on the pitch which we can fix going into Ospreys next week.”
He wouldn’t have been happy with Munster’s scrum in the closing stages at a time when changes had been made in keeping with modern trends.
“Yeah, I think we just picked up the tempo and our heads just went. We didn’t concentrate on the scrum and they brought on fresh legs but it’s something we can fix.”
His tries, he emphasised, were easy and he recognised the back line’s good approach play. “I didn’t have to work hard to get those tries although it’s good to get a few run-ins.”
Although he enjoyed playing the role of captain, he also paid tribute to the players around him. Recognising that Munster have lost the services of such special servants as Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan of late, he said: “There’ s a few of us who have come through in the last three or four years that need to step up and the leaders group did.
“It’s great to see that, Dave Foley in the pack, Archie (Stephen Archer), BJ (Botha) and, in the backs, Keats (Ian Keatley), Tyler (Bleyendaal) – he hasn’t been here long but he’s a learner — Duncan Williams.
“And there’s a few boys coming back and it’s going to be good to see who is going to get those roles.”
And the younger guys? “John Madigan (second row) is just a physical athlete and he brings a lot to the pack already. He’s a youngster along with Jack (O’Donoghue); you always know he’s going to bring his best game.
“He came through the ranks last year and had a great game. You saw the class he is. It’s good to have a six or an eight that can play seven. He played out of his role and he played unbelievable I think.”
It’s accepted that Munster face a much more intense examination at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, not least because the Ospreys lost in round one to Ulster.
“Yeah,” said Stander, “it’s going to be a physical game. We have an eight-day turnaround, but we have to fix our scrum and get our line-out ready so we can give ball to the back line.”
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