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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 21 November, 2019

'I get goosebumps when I run onto the pitch and hear the Munster supporters'

CJ Stander won’t be looking for the limelight in what may be his final game as Munster captain.

SATURDAY MAY BE CJ Stander’s final time captaining Munster in a major game for some months, but he won’t be treating the Guinness Pro12 clash with the Scarlets any differently than normal.

Munster’s CJ Stander Stander will captain Munster again this weekend. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Peter O’Mahony is expected to resume the leadership role next season under new director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, though Stander is likely to be second in command.

“I’m quite emotional before matches anyway, so I’ll just do the same thing,” says Stander ahead of the decisive fixture at Thomond Park on Saturday.

“You can’t go and take it on yourself to do something different. We know what we want to do this week, so taking the spotlight onto me because it’s maybe my last game as captain is not fair to the team.”

Stander – who was named IRUPA players’ player of the season last night – explains that he has worked hard at the skill of captaincy this season in O’Mahony’s absence, spending time thinking about how exactly he is going to set the tone for this teammates.

He has been reading about leadership and speaking to Paul O’Connell regularly too, while his mastery of English has helped.

This year it’s changed,” says Stander. “I usually think in Afrikaans and speak in English, but now luckily I think in English. I think I’m turning into an English-speaking person now!”

Something Stander has pushed in recent times in his capacity as captain has been players mingling with supporters. Munster remaining on the pitch after the full whistle to thank fans is slowly becoming a habit again and Stander believes it’s important.

“It’s a thing that we started doing more towards the end of the season to say thanks to the supporters,” says the Ireland back row. “When it’s not going well on the pitch, it’s not going well for them. They have to struggle with the team.

“The support we got on Friday night [during the win over Edinburgh in Cork] was the diehard fans who wanted to be there. It was a sellout but people got their tickets early and the momentum and push they give you with their singing and cheering [helps].

CJ Stander Munster face another huge game this weekend. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I think that’s a thing we’ll do next season even more, just get that connection between the supporters and the players. That will be vital going forward in the next few years.”

After Munster were so well supported in Musgrave Park, Stander is now hoping to see and feel something similar at Thomond Park.

“We played Stade Français here and the people that came that day, the people who wanted to be here, there was a lot of pride in them,” says Stander. “It makes a big difference, so if we come on on Saturday and there’s even one more person who wants to be here, it would unbelievable.

“The more here the better for us. It gives you a lift when you run out. It’s funny, I always get goosebumps when I run onto the pitch and I can hear that the Munster supporters are there.”

Stander echoes head coach Anthony Foley’s words in stating that Munster must beat the Scarlets on Saturday, rather than hoping for a favour from elsewhere.

One reason for optimism in that regard is the impressive form of out-half Johnny Holland, who has grown with each outing since his return from a serious hamstring injury.

“For a 10, the pack needs to look after him,” says Stander. “At some stages I think during the year we let the 10 down and it is good when someone steps up, good when you look up when you are tired and you see you are going forward not backwards.”

Interestingly, Stander believes Munster didn’t provide Ian Keatley with the same protection Holland has been offered earlier in the campaign.

“You don’t protect him, by not getting in someone’s way to charge down the kick, to make it easier for him. Or you leave the game until the end and let him take the pressure kicks to win the game; you give away a penalty to the other team in front of the posts and then you go ‘we lost the game there for you, sorry boy.’”

CJ Stander Stander will lead from the front again at Thomond Park. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

While everything revolves around Saturday’s vital meeting with the Welsh region, Munster’s players have allowed their minds to slip forward into next season just once or twice since the appointment of Erasmus was confirmed.

As a South African native, Stander has been fielding questions about the new director of rugby, while he says former Munster prop Wian du Preez has also been getting phone calls.

“I haven’t worked with him,” says Stander of Erasmus. “I was in a group where he was a coach but there have been a few questions about what type of guy he is and to be honest, I’ve told you guys the same thing I told them.

“I don’t know him on that level. A guy like Wian was here before and he worked with him and a lot of guys were calling him and asking what type of guy he was. I think his first impression will be good though.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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