CJ Stander Q&A
GARETH DUNCAN chats to Munster flank CJ Stander about braaing with the locals, creating a Saffa table after matches and his desire to play for Ireland.
How's life in Ireland?
I'm really enjoying it. The lads have taken me in and the Irish are very friendly people. It was tough settling in at first because my English wasn't really good. So there was that language barrier. But my English has improved a lot since then. I also had to adapt to the weather. The sun would shine in the morning, and I'd expect a warm day and dress accordingly. But when I got to the club, it was raining and I was the only player without a jacket. Now I travel with my jacket everywhere I go.
Which players do you spend most of your time with?
When I first arrived, my fiancé stayed with me for a while before going back to South Africa to study. So we got to tour Ireland and see what the country was all about. After she left, I spent a lot of time with my South African team-mates Wian du Preez and BJ Botha. I'm lucky they are here, because they helped me a lot. They assisted me when I got my car and house, and taught me all about the Irish culture from a South African perspective. We also braai whenever we can, and our Irish team-mates love it. They're always looking forward to the next 'barbeque'!
Describe the game plan you play at Munster.
We have a New Zealand coach in Rob Penney, so the players get a lot of freedom to express themselves and play according to what's happening in front of them. That's very different to the game plan I was used to playing at the Bulls, which is more physical and structured. It took me some time to get used to it, but I found myself adapting after a couple of weeks.
You recently recovered from a broken finger. What happened?
During my first start for Munster against the Glasgow Warriors, I hurt my hand at a breakdown during the opening minutes. But I played through the pain, and still scored two tries as we won the game. At first, the doctors didn't think it was serious and I was expected to play in the next match. But after visiting the specialist, he told me that I broke a finger and I needed to treat it. So I was out for about five weeks. It was hard because it was the first major injury of my senior career. But I'm fully recovered now and back in the Munster starting line-up.
Are you suprised to see so many South Africans in the Pro12?
I found it really funny. On my Munster debut, I played against the Scarlets and they had three South Africans in their squad. So after the game, we all sat together and created a Saffa table. I also played against Josh Strauss when we faced Glasgow, and we got to chat.
Munster are sitting in sixth place on the Pro12 log. What's gone wrong this season?
We have a new coach and a very young team, so we need time to gel. We're already starting to do so. While we'll need to improve our domestic form, we've qualified for the European Cup quarter-finals. We face Harlequins on 6 April.
What are the main differences between Super Rugby and the European Cup?
I haven't had the chance to play in the European Cup because of my injury. But I'm looking forward to making my tournament debut in our next game. From what I see, Super Rugby is played with more speed, while the European Cup is very physical. I can't wait to experience my first game.
Before you left for South Africa, you said you'd be open to representing Ireland. Is that still the case?
I've watched the Six Nations recently, and it looks like a very competitive and exciting competition. If the chance to play for Ireland came my way, I'd definitely take it. I first have to go through the three-year residency policy before I can qualify. I'm currently on contract with Munster until 2015, so we see how things go.
What if Heyneke Meyer gave you a Springbok call-up?
That's obviously something I'd look into. I know I was in a Springbok training squad last year and captained the Baby Boks. But South Africa is blessed with plenty of quality loose forwards, so I doubt I'll be considered.