'I'm probably the last guy to try and offload' - Stander embracing Munster attack

The number eight says Stephen Larkham has been giving the players confidence to play.

BY HIS OWN admission, CJ Stander isn’t the most natural offloader of the ball.

More renowned for his powerful and relentless carrying, the Ireland number eight is nonetheless enjoying a slightly altered attacking focus under Munster senior coach Stephen Larkham this season.

Two games in the Heineken Champions Cup is a very small sample base to work with but, so far, Munster have offloaded nine times on average per European game this season, an increase on last season’s 5.5 per game.

cj-stander-during-the-warm-up Tommy Dickson / INPHO Stander warms up before a Munster game. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

The argument could rightly be made that Munster’s average this season will be reduced in the upcoming back-to-back clashes with Saracens and if they reach the knock-out stages, but Larkham doesn’t want that to be the case. Tightening up for semi-finals hasn’t worked for Munster in the past two seasons and the Aussie coach is encouraging the players to be slightly more adventurous.

“He has given us a lot of confidence,” says Stander. “We train it so then you can actually go out and try it on the pitch. I’m probably the last guy to try and offload, I normally try and catch them from the lads, but he gives you the confidence. You look at it and sometimes in training it’s not on, so he tells you what to do differently. 

“If you have done 100 reps during the week, it comes easier at the weekend.”

Stander has made two offloads and 10 passes in the European campaign so far and while Saracens’ defence tomorrow should be far more stifling than what Ospreys and Racing 92 offered up, Munster are hopeful of continuing their attacking progress.

Larkham has stated his belief that Irish players are actually more skillful than Australians, which seemed to come as a surprise to Stander.

“Did he say that? I think what I have learned at Munster and Ireland is that people are eager to learn and they are eager to take that skill on,” said Stander.

“If you get confidence from a coach like that, people are going to try it and we have some unbelievably skillful players – I am talking through the whole squad, even with the academy lads, you look at some and you go, ‘That’s an unreal thing.’

“Using a farming analogy – it is taking that egg, breaking it open and giving that guy a chance to just go do it and play his game and enjoy it.”

cj-stander Oisin Keniry / INPHO Stander at Munster training this week. Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Whatever team selection Saracens announce at midday today, Stander is realistic in acknowledging that Munster will need to be at their physical peak tomorrow. While their attack intent is encouraging, the southern province must live with Saracens’ power too.

On top of that, Stander underlines the mental challenge of playing against the Premiership champions, who often apply a Test-like level of pressure to their opponents. 

Stander feels Munster are better equipped to deal with this test than before, having worked with South African performance psychologist Pieter Kruger in recent times.

“We’ve actually worked a lot with Pieter on our mental side, just to get back to… we need to know where the pressure points are and the need to step back and get back to your core and see what your plan is for the week.

“That plan needs to be embedded early in the week and I think we’ve really stepped up with that as a full squad. 

“Coming back [from the World Cup], I can see the lads have been working hard on this since pre-season and everyone knows our plan. We need to have a plan to stand for something otherwise you’re going to fall quickly.”

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