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Munster falling into Europe's second tier would not be acceptable, insists CJ Stander

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 27/04/2016

Looking up: Munster’s CJ Stander is going out to reach Champions Cup
Looking up: Munster’s CJ Stander is going out to reach Champions Cup

Given Munster's perilous position ahead of the last two PRO12 games of the season, it's no surprise to hear that Paul O'Connell has been in touch to lend his support. It's all hands on deck.

After the distraction of the appointment of Rassie Erasmus on Monday, attention can again turn to the important business still to be conducted this season - namely qualifying for next season's Champions Cup.

There is a theory out there that Munster might be better off out of the top competition for a year to allow them to hit rock bottom before regrouping.

Ask chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald and he'd explain that the financial hit would be to the tune of €500,000 minimum if they missed out, while a coach of Erasmus' status hasn't signed on to be part of the sideshow.

As for the squad, they are not even contemplating the idea of the secondary competition. For all the boardroom wranglings of the last few days, their fate is in their own hands and a win over Edinburgh on Friday night in Cork would be a big statement of their intent to remain among the big boys.

CJ Stander said: "You want to play at the top level. Some people can say that it might help to re-gather and regroup, but we cannot think like that. I think we as a group, with the players we have, can play at that level.

"The mistakes, and the small things that have cost us, need to be fixed. If we can get that out of the way, we will be competing again.

"I have never played to just secure a position before. It is pressure, but luckily we know what we need to do. We know where we want to be this year and also next year. When you take things on as a group, you can spread the pressure.

"The pressure is on the players, we have to go onto the pitch, we are the ones who can change it."

As captain, Stander is bearing a lot on his shoulders but says he has help from team-mates past and present.

"We pick each other up," he said. "That is where players like Conor Murray, Peter O'Mahony, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo step up. The leadership group I have around me is good. I can always talk to them about things. Even someone like Paul O'Connell, who has left, is a help.

"If I have a problem, my wife and family are there for me. It might sound weird to talk about rugby with them, but that can be a good thing too. There are good structures here too where you can go to a coach and ask them how they would deal with something or someone. That is a great support.

"Paulie is very busy with his retirement, but he is always around. He is someone you can just call and ask a question of. He is good to bounce ideas off. He is there to talk to you. It is great to sit down with someone like that.

"You don't always get that opportunity. That is the type of man he is. He wants to sit down with you, he wants to know what is going on and that is massive for me.

"When I arrived here, he was an icon, he still is, so it is good to get learnings from a guy like that who has been at the top for his entire career. It is good to have someone like that."

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