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Stand-in Munster captain CJ 'has a massive role to play, both on and off the pitch' -- Foley

Nobody at Munster was happy with a Champions Cup campaign ended by a ‘thumping’ at the fists of Saracens last year.

Rory Keane reports from London

AS MUNSTER gear up for another gruelling European campaign, Anthony Foley has backed CJ Stander to lead his side’s charge.

CJ Stander Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Stander, who was named Munster’s Player of the Year last season, has been central to his side’s promising early form and will captain the province during the group stages of the competition in the coming weeks.

Shorn of the injured captain Peter O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell, not to mention the seismic void left by Paul O’Connell, Stander’s leadership and ball carrying will be crucial to Munster’s cause as they look to negotiate a pool containing Leicester Tigers, Stade Francais and Benetton Treviso.

Speaking at the official launch of the European Champions Cup at the Stoop in London, Foley hailed the contribution of the 25-year-old flanker.

“CJ has a massive role to play within the club, both on and off the pitch,” said Foley.

“CJ’s been announced as captain for the group stages of the European Cup, that’s where we see his influence at the moment. We have other great leaders within the group. We’ve got guys like Denis Hurley, Billy Holland and Conor Murray who are all earning their stripes in terms of the leadership side of the game.”

Stander has recently completed his three-year residency requirements and became eligible to represent Ireland at the end of last month.

For Foley, he sees it as just reward for Stander’s attitude and application over the past 18 months:

“He moved over lock and stock. His girlfriend is here. He’s settled his life in Limerick and he’s enjoying it the moment. He probably doesn’t get as much hunting as he’d like, but he’s really enjoying it and buying in. He’s got a great mentality and a great attitude around the place as well.”

Munster failed to qualify from the group stages of last season’s competition following back-to-back losses against Clermont with a 33-10 thumping at the hands of Saracens at Allianz Park the final nail in the coffin.

“The boys and the coaching staff, we weren’t too impressed with what happened during the pool stages,” Foley explained.

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“You lose to Clermont at home, you know you’re on the back foot. Then we came over to Saracens with everything to play for and we got thumped. We understand all that, we don’t need it explained to us. This year, we’d like to work on getting out of the pool.

“We’ll go week-to-week. All four teams will start this competition on zero points and it’s about working from our first game and if we can do a job during the pool stages, hopefully it’s earned us the right to get out.”

Old rivals

Foley’s young squad have made a superb start to their Pro12 campaign, but there is a sense that the real business is beginning now.

Munster host Treviso in their opening Champions Cup clash on Saturday week before they travel to Paris to take on reigning Top 14 champions Stade Francais.

Crunch back-to-back encounters with old rivals Leicester will follow in December. Plenty of challenges to focus the mind.

MunsterÕs BJ Botha and CJ Stander

It’s a point not lost on the Munster’s returning World Cup stars. For the likes of Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Conor Murray and Donnacha Ryan, there is no time to dwell on that defeat by the Pumas in Cardiff… it’s back to business with Munster.

“Just even coming back into the environment, it’s lifted their spirits,” said Foley on Munster’s returning internationals.

“You can see the smiles on their faces when they meet the lads. The lads slag them straight away so there’s no awkwardness around the place so everything’s back to normal. It’s great to have the boys back, they’ve trained well during the week and hopefully we can see that out on the pitch.”

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