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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 21 February, 2019
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'We kissed and made up!' - Munster and Stander back in the quarter-finals

CJ Stander says Munster can improve as they look towards a knockout tie.

Murray Kinsella reports from Scotstoun

HAVING SECURED THEIR place in the Champions Cup quarter-finals with a gutsy 14-12 win away to Glasgow, Munster celebrated in style in the changing rooms.

Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander were pushed into the centre of the huddle under the stands at Scotstoun, where they embraced for a quick kiss that was broadcast to everyone watching on Sky Sports.

Kiss CJ Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander embrace for their post-match kiss.

A new tradition for the province?

“I saw that it was on live TV!” said Stander with post-match, laughing and shaking his head. “No, we had a few words. I think I gave two penalties away, so Pete tried to calm me down and we had a few words.

“We do this thing in training where we kiss and make up, so we kissed and made up. That’s about it, I can’t really speak out of the changing room!”

It was a moment of fun among a team whose spirit continues to grow with each victory this season, their work rate being the most obvious demonstration of the collective bond out on the pitch.

Munster are enjoying playing for each other, but asked about their mood after ensuring a first European quarter-final in three seasons, Stander slipped instantly back into the focused mindset.

“I think there’s a lot to improve on in that game,” said Stander. “I think our breakdown let us down. But on the other side, to qualify is a good note. To win two games away from home, it’s massive for us.

“I think we let ourselves down against Leicester in the last few minutes and I think that was in our heads in the last few minutes [against Glasgow]. As a group, everyone stepped up. I mean, a guy like Jack O’Donoghue coming into the team and stepping up to the plate, it’s unbelievable.”

Munster now face a final Pool 1 fixture at home to Racing 92 at Thomond Park next weekend, when they will hope that a convincing win will secure them the all-important home draw for the quarter-finals.

Francis Saili celebrates after the match Francis Saili was the match winner for Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Racing clearly turned up with intent in Leicester this evening, although they are expected to send their second string to Thomond Park. Nonetheless, this Munster set-up is taking nothing for granted.

“You never know how they’re going to pitch up, so it’s going to be a big game again,” said Stander. “It’s in Thomond Park. For us, a full Thomond Park is always a great place to be. Everyone is already looking forward to it, but we need to work hard.

“We can’t let ourselves down now, we’ve still got one game to go in the group. We have came a long way now and the big thing is not to let ourselves down.”

Whatever about the realism and focus from Munster’s point of view, to win in this manner again tonight highlights the potential of the team. Rassie Erasmus’ men were not at their best in Scotstoun, and it seems certain that there is more to come.

The manner in which they learned from that late defeat to Leicester in Welford Road in December, and put the lessons into practice this evening as Glasgow desperately searched for a winning score late on, underlines that Munster are growing rapidly.

“There’s always a learning curve and Rassie always tells us to learn from our mistakes and work on it,” said Stander. “If you go full on to improve it, he’s happy with it. If you just go half-arsed at it, you’re going to get a bit of a kick.

“Everyone stepped up and learned from that Leicester experience and stepped up. In the last few minutes [tonight], we were two points up and kept them out. That’s going to help us going forward in this competition.”

Donnacha Ryan and CJ Stander celebrate after the match Donnacha Ryan and Stander post-match in Glasgow. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

A convincing win over Racing means Munster will almost certainly have their home quarter-final, three seasons after the last one – when they dismantled Toulouse in front of a vocal crowd at Thomond Park.

Another day like that would be special, but there’s work still to be done.

“Not getting to the final stages was disappointing [in the last two seasons] and I think there was a lot of boys that wanted to get there and didn’t get there,” said Stander. “We talk a lot about it, and you miss that feeling of going into the quarters and the semis, hopefully.

“But we worked hard. We’re a tight group, as you could see with the kiss between me and Pete! So we work for each other and work for the team. There’s still a lot to improve on from this game, but that comes down to Monday’s training.”

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Murray Kinsella

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