CJ STANDER’S TIME at Munster has not always been enjoyable. He arrived full of enthusiasm in the middle of last season to find a registration fault would deny him Heineken Cup action.
He missed out on the heroic win over Harlequins and the agonising failure against Clermont Auvergne in the semi-final. His involvement in the RaboDirect Pro12 was fleeting as he made only three starts and four appearances off the bench. He scored four tries in those seven matches, including this 80m sprint for a score on his home debut.
Rob Penney remained unconvinced of the South African’s abilities for long spells of this season and there was a feeling that the flanker may have been slow on the tactical uptake. Former Munster openside David Wallace says he was frustrated at Stander not being given a run in the back row. He added, however, that Penney seemed to be opting for players like Sean Dougall and Tommy O’Donnell, who worked fastidiously to their coach’s playing tactical blueprint. In short, the same nitty, gritty, ruck-clearing that Ireland coach Joe Schmidt favours.
Stander began his season with a pair of tries against Zebre but only started two more games over the next three months. Penney looked to the 24-year-old as a impact players, and gamebreaker, off the bench. The back row bided his time, took his starts during the international windows, and signed a contract extension [to June 2016]. He backed up his show of commitment on the field but found himself in reserve for the Heineken Cup as captain Peter O’Mahony returned from a shoulder injury.
O’Mahony’s shoulder was far from 100% and he eeked 19 minutes of ruck hitting and tackling from it before he left the Thomond Park pitch. O’Mahony’s season was over but Munster still had a quarter final against Toulouse to win. Stander’s 61 minute contribution was immense. He made 10 carries for 30 metres, was Munster’s highest tackler [10 completed] and scored a try.
Here — using the Toulouse game as examples of his play — are the three areas where Stander should prove vital against Toulon today.
Breaking the gainline
Stander is similar to France No.8 Louis Picamoles in that he is extremely hard to take down at the first time of asking. The oaken trunk of his hips and torso make it hard for defenders to get a firm grip in the tackle while Stander has tremendous power in his legs, continuing to pump when he is tackled. He also possesses a meaty fend-off.
Again there are similarities with another player in the Top 14. This time it is Steffon Armitage, who he will face-off against this afternoon at Stade Velodrome. Stander may not always be the first into the ruck, choosing rather to pick is moments to go digging. He keeps his back rigid and plants the legs wide, allowing him to forage for the ball. It is very helpful in slowing down opposition ball and, in the instance below, resulted in a turnover.
Gael Fickou is already big for his age and will grow into a centre to truly fear. On this occasion, however, he is rag-dolled by Stander. The South African is seeking to stand the Toulouse man up in the tackle but finds Fickou’s support slow in arriving. He uses his superior upper body strength to wrest the ball from the 20-year-old and turn defence into attack.
Leinster’s back row found themselves overpowered for much of their quarter final defeat to Toulon and struggled to make any gains in attack when they had the ball. The back row battle — against Juan Smith, Juan Fernandez Lobbe and Armitage — will be no easier today and Stander will be required, for large tracts of time, to pitch into driving the French side back.
He is vital, however, in taking the fight to the reigning Heineken Cup champions and, when ball comes to hand, setting them on their heels.