Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
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# Inter-pro
Stander content to occupy underdog role until it comes time to bite back
‘To go up there just to play is not going to be acceptable. We play this game to win,’ says the Munster and Ireland back row.

TEAMS WHO RACK up nine-try, 64-point wins don’t often get the chance to slip into an underdog role for the very next game, but Munster are more than happy to occupy that position this week.

Leinster don’t need much talking up, of course, but the eastern province went under the alias ‘Best team in Europe’ around Munster’s UL base yesterday.

A respectful approach, you suspect, to a fierce and feisty resumption of the island’s biggest rugby rivalry.

“For sure being the underdog helps a bit,” said CJ Stander, “they came down to Thomond Park last year and gave us a hiding.

“It’s something players can use as individuals going up against the best team in Europe. They proved last year they can do it week in, week out and they proved it over the weekend.”

The recent run of head-to-head results won’t take Munster out of that outsider role either. They haven’t beaten their arch rivals in Dublin since 2014. By St Stephen’s Day that year Anthony Foley’s side (en route to the Pro12 final) completed a season’s double over Matt O’Connor’s men.

Since then, however, the southern province have claimed just one win in seven attempts against Leinster.

What makes this time around feel any different?

“We’ve worked with our coaching staff now for a good few months. They have a pre-season under their belt and we have quality players in positions that we’ve needed. They’ve come in and pushed the rest of the team,” said Stander before wriggling away from the underdog tag.

“It’s an inter-pro, it doesn’t matter what the expectations of the public or supporters are, we know we’ve to go up there and produce to give ourselves a chance in this competition and to test ourselves against the best team in Europe.

“To go up there just to play is not going to be acceptable. We play this game to win and we’ll do the best we can.”

“Look, the last time we played them at the RDS (Pro14 semi-final) we lost by one point. We almost got to a point where we could have won the game. It was one point.

“We train well all those weeks, but I think back to the last few years… we just need to go out there and make sure we play our game and we go out there and work on our plan from during the week.

Sometimes we went up there in the last few years and tried to reinvent the wheel and it didn’t come off.

“Leinster were just unbelievable last year. We have all seen it. Anything we tried, they just put us under pressure and the game they played was exactly what we couldn’t stop.

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“I think just going up there, make sure we train well this week because it’s the biggest challenge we are going to have.”

With November approaching fast, the contest will also serve as a litmus test for the onlooking Joe Schmidt.

Stander will likely come face to face with his fellow Grand Slam-winners Dan Leavy. Sean O’Brien missed out on the Six Nations and Australia tour, but he will be in the frame too, perhaps even eyeing up the same six/eight jersey that Stander is.

“It’s a difficult place,” says Stander, “but It’s a place I like to be.  All of us want to be there, you need competition to improve.”

Roll on Saturday 6pm.

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