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'You need to put your hand up. There's going to be injuries'

CJ Stander went well on his final audition for a place in the Lions’ first Test 23.

Murray Kinsella reports from Auckland

CJ STANDER GAVE Warren Gatland a strong final reminder of how impactful he can be before the Lions boss picked his Test 23, but the fact that the Munster man went for the full 80 minutes against the Chiefs on Tuesday night doesn’t bode too well.

CJ Stander celebrates winning Stander hopes for some Test involvement. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

If Gatland is looking for high energy, ball-carrying ballast, huge work rate and an extremely vocal presence off his bench for the first clash with the All Blacks on Saturday, then Stander can provide those things.

But with four other back rows completely rested from Tuesday night’s game, the signs are not great for Stander ahead of the naming of the Lions’ matchday 23 at 8pm Irish time this evening.

It might have been easy for heads to drop before the Chiefs clash, with players disappointed to be selected for the game most of them wanted to avoid being involved in at all costs, but Stander is taking a positive approach.

For him, it represented an opportunity not only to have a final Test audition, but also to show Gatland what he could potentially offer in the second and third clashes with the All Blacks.

“You need to put your hand up,” said Stander afterwards in Hamilton. “There’s going to be injuries and there is going to be swaps. You just want to give the coaches a headache.

“If everyone puts their hands up in a squad of 40, everyone is going to get pushed, players are going to get pushed and the momentum is going to go forward because everyone knows that that jersey isn’t yours, you just need to make sure that you do get into it week in, week out.”

With his usual prolific number of carries and tackles, Stander did all he could to put his hand up. The Munster man’s motivation was evident in how he celebrated his side’s good play, and how he encouraged his team-mates at every single scrum.

CJ Stander with Dominic Bird Stander carries into the tackle of Dominic Bird. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While he hasn’t managed to push his way past the impressive Taulupe Faletau at number eight, Stander has been enjoying this Lions tour.

Having finished the season in uncharacteristically quiet form for Munster following an ankle injury, Stander is moving back towards his best form in New Zealand.

“I would say I was struggling at the end of the season,” said Stander. “It was just good to get out and play well again. I was probably… I won’t say in a dark place, but I didn’t know what was going on.

“I was trying to look at things, how I can change or what I need to do to do better. The big thing for me was just getting out there, just running with the ball again and enjoying the game that I have always loved, but I lost that for a while.

“I just needed to make sure that the game that I love and the game that I enjoy, just enjoy that and work hard again. Sometimes you get into a dip and then people just keep on pushing you down.

“It’s like the deep end of the pool and a lot of people just keep pushing you down. You just need to get back onto the top and the boys have lifted me, lifted my spirit anyway. It was good to be on tour and I’m enjoying it.”

For Stander and the midweek team, Tuesday was a big night in that it represented their first win of the tour, having gone down to the Blues and the Highlanders in recent weeks.

Iain Henderson and CJ Stander celebrate winning Spirits are high in the Lions' camp. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

On top of that, they believe they have added to the momentum heading into that first Test in Auckland.

“We just wanted to get a win for the boys,” said Stander. “There was a bit of delight, a bit of emotion. You wanted to get a win again because coming off of three losses from the [Pro12] final, you just want to get on the winning way.

“You start looking deep into yourself and wondering what is wrong and then when you win again everything is fun again.”

Now Stander must wait and see, but he definitely isn’t writing himself out of the Test series yet.

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Murray Kinsella

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