CJ Stander insists there will be plenty of plus points for Munster to take into Sunday’s must-win Champions Cup pool finale with Castres, despite defeat to Racing 92 in Paris.
Munster lost 34-30 at the U Arena last Sunday and although there was great disappointment in the visitors’ dressing room after a helter-skelter game the province had led 30-28 with six minutes to go, they returned from the French capital with a losing bonus point and the knowledge they still lead Pool 4 with one game remaining.
They face a Castres side whose own qualification hopes have been resurrected by a 39-0 thumping of Leicester Tigers.
Those five points gained in France mean they lie third in the table, and have a chance of topping the pool if they can pull off an upset at Thomond Park on Sunday lunchtime and land a bonus-point win.
Munster, though, have business of their own to conclude, and know a straightforward victory will secure top spot, whatever Racing, a point behind them, manage to achieve at Welford Road this Sunday.
So while there was frustration at losing for the first time in Europe this season, Stander was refusing to think in those terms with regard to next weekend and a return match with a side they drew against in round one in France.
“I won’t say it’s ideal, but it’s something we can look forward to, playing at Thomond Park in what is pretty much a decider for us,” the Munster No.8 said. “We pitch up in Thomond Park week-in, week-out, and our supporters do it week-in, week-out, and they give us that extra lift.
“So Thomond Park for the decider, I think there’s a lot of stuff we can learn from the first game against Castres. Our discipline let us down a little bit but we’re going to Thomond Park to play another French team for what is a decider in our season, so it’s something to look forward to.”
Conor Murray had edged Munster back in front with six minutes to go, nailing a long-range penalty that effectively secured the losing bonus point but on a 4G pitch under the U Arena roof, it was the visitors rather than Racing who adapted best to conditions ideal for running rugby, with three superb tries from Jean Kleyn, Earls, and Chris Farrell.
Stander said that was a facet of Munster’s play being developed by attack coach Felix Jones since last May’s PRO12 final defeat to the Scarlets but also a result of tweaks being made by new head coach van Graan.
“I think it’s a bit of both. I think we’ve done that earlier in the season but it just didn’t come off, but I think Johann has brought some new things in. I think Mur (Conor Murray) jumping in a few lineouts a few weeks ago is something that he has brought in.
“I think he gives players confidence to try something. I think I’ve probably made more passes in certain positions in the game.
“He gives you that confidence to try something and make sure that you bring something more to the game. Yea, look, I think we attacked well. The pitch gave us the chance to make the most of those opportunities, to put in a bit more passes. Chris Farrell ran some unbelievable lines and the whole backline play was exceptional.”
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