Peter Stringer is poised to write his name into the history books as only the third player to secure 100 caps in European competitions should he get the nod to start in Bath’s Amlin Challenge Cup game against Rugby Mogliano tomorrow.
Former Munster team-mates Ronan O’Gara (110) and John Hayes (101) are the sole pair to have crossed the three figure threshold and while Stringer appreciates the scale of the achievement, memories more so than numbers are what he treasurers most.
“It makes me feel like I’ve been playing the game for a while,” he joked.
“Obviously, it’s a nice number to get to, but it’s just a number. That’s really all it is. It’s really about the memories you have, the players you play with and the experiences you have on the pitch. That’s what you take out of it. There’s no point having those numbers if you’re not successful and not winning things.”
Stringer, who just missed out on 100 appearances at international level — securing 98 caps in the green jersey — enjoyed a turbulent introduction at European level when garnering his first cap in Munster’s 41-24 defeat to Perpignan in 1998. There followed, however, a remarkable run of 90 games in the Heineken Cup for the combative number nine.
“One of the memories that stands out was when Keith Wood came back to rejoin Munster in 2000 and sat down with us all at the start of the year when we were setting our goals. He said that to win the Heineken Cup was a goal. I remember people looking around at each other and wondering, ‘Really? Is this an option, is this something he thinks we’re capable of doing?’ Here was someone coming in from a really professional team in England at the time [Harlequins] and setting out his stall. From then on, everyone bought into it and went through the year believing.
“We had a great quarter-final at home and we had an away semi-final against Toulouse in France, which was an incredible experience. Getting to the final then was pretty surreal. A lot of us found ourselves in a position in which we never really believed we would be in. Unfortunately, Ronan missed a kick and we lost the game by a point, but players and supporters will never forget that day. That really was the beginning of something special.”
Munster again encountered Heineken Cup heartbreak in 2002 and though much was made of Neil Back’s illegal interception, Stringer accepts the better team prevailed. Four years later, a second final appearance in Cardiff beckoned and the 35-year old admits it was “their time”.
“Everybody was ready. We’d been through a lot of defeats in semi-finals and finals and we had a good bunch of lads and some experienced players.
“We went behind early in the game, but we didn’t panic. It was one of the greatest days in a Munster jersey, both for the team and for me personally. With the number of supporters we had in comparison to the opposition, you couldn’t have written a story like it. The atmosphere, the way the game finished, and the emotion that was shown by both supporters and players was really a mark of a lot of heartache that we’d experienced in previous years. There was a flood of every kind of emotion when the final whistle went – it was pretty special.”
He added: “2008 was different for me. When you find yourself on the bench, it is a bit different. It’s quite frustrating, but you buy into it and you buy into the squad and the team. It was another incredible win, especially playing against a side like Toulouse. To be able to go back to the same venue again and recreate something was great.”
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