It will be a special occasion for CJ Stander to play in his hometown George on Saturday, says Munster coach Johann van Graan.
Indeed, the celebrations can start early for the South African, as today is his 28th birthday.
However, van Graan warned that all that matters at this stage is that Munster copperfasten their PRO14 playoff place and not get side-tracked by anything, including the upcoming Champions Cup semi-final against Racing 92.
“I think it will be nice for CJ to play in his hometown. It’s also his birthday, but it’s all about the team and the main thing is to put in a good performance over the weekend. Enjoy it, but it’s another step in the right direction for us and, hopefully, we can put in a good performance over the weekend.”
Coping with the heat in South Africa will, according to van Graan, help prepare Munster for the warm temperatures they expect in Bordeaux on Sunday fortnight for the Champions Cup showdown.
“Heat will be a factor for the next couple of weeks. Weather-wise, it is totally different to what we are used to in Ireland, but also in terms of our preparation, good planning for the game in France in three weeks’ time.
“It will be hot and humid in George this weekend and high altitude in Bloemfontein, but we will just take it day by day.”
Van Graan, back in his native South Africa for the first time since taking charge of Munster, insists Saturday’s dramatic Champions Cup win over Toulon has been put to bed and all of their focus now is what lies ahead.
The squad’s first training session since that 20-19 win was held in sunshine in Cape Town yesterday, as they began preparations for their two games in South Africa.
First up are the Southern Kings in George on Saturday evening and then, tomorrow week, they face the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in a key Conference A clash, which could go a long way towards deciding the home PRO14 quarter-finalists.
“We start at zero every week,” said van Graan at training at City Park in a southern Cape Town suburb yesterday morning.
“Obviously, we enjoyed the win over Toulon, a massive win for the team and the club, but it’s in the past now, it’s back to PRO14 now, a new challenge in South Africa and we have got some important games coming up.”
He has brought a squad of 30 with him to South Africa and has all bar Simon Zebo and Darren Sweetnam available for this weekend.
Both players went through a light training session at City Park — one of Western Province’s pitches — yesterday morning, as the squad trained in heat of 23 degrees Celsius and were grateful for the fresh breeze.
“Darren has got a small twitch in his hamstring and Zeebs has got a lot of bruising on his hip; he has got a hip-pointer, so we will monitor through the next week and see how they go,” said van Graan, who said the squad have settled in well at their hotel close to the city’s famous Waterfront area.
“It was a long few hours of travel to get here. We took a bus to Dublin and it took two flights from there to get here but it’s great to be in Cape Town and South Africa and looking forward to the two-week tour.”
He is likely to rest some frontline players this weekend for the clash against Conference B basement side Southern Kings, but with players battling for places at the business end of the season, he doesn’t expect that to cause a fall-off in the level of performance.
Van Graan confirmed that he had decided some time ago to bring the full squad to South Africa for this two-match tour.
“We were going to bring the same squad, one way or the other, regardless of the outcome of the game against Toulon.
“We were obviously hoping for a positive result in the quarter-final and these are a very important two weeks for us in terms of the PRO14 and we want to get that home quarter-final spot and, for that to happen, we need to put in two good performances over here,” he added.
The Munster squad will make the 430km journey to George by road later today, with the scenic drive through the Western Cape taking about five hours.
They will hold their Captain’s Run at Outeniqua Park in George tomorrow, as they wrap up their preparations for Saturday evening’s game.
The squad will return to Cape Town by road on Sunday and will be based there until they fly to Bloemfontein the following Thursday, the day before they take on the Cheetahs in the Highveld.
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