CJ Stander made a vow to himself in 2015 and he sure as hell stuck to it
November 28, 2015 is a day CJ Stander still bitterly remembers.
26 months have since passed but the look in Stander's eyes as he talks about the game he played in, that evening, tells you some bad memories linger on.
Stander was Munster captain for the 2015/16 season and it was not an easy one. He initially was asked to lead the squad while Peter O'Mahony was on World Cup duty but the flanker's knee injury left him on the sidelines for a protracted period and Stander kept the captaincy warm in his absence.
The season started well enough, with Munster winning seven of the opening eight PRO12 fixtures and targeting back-to-back Champions Cup wins over Leicester Tigers to make up for a 27-7 loss to Stade Francais in Paris. When Connacht arrived at Thomond Park on November 28, few gave the westerners a chance.
It had been 29 years since Munster lost to Connacht at Thomond and, despite Pat Lam's side also starting the season well, most fans and pundits would have predicted that barren run to stretch to 30. It was not to be, however, and with two fine tries from Tiernan O'Halloran and Bundee Aki, and the boot of Craig Ronaldson, Connacht won 18-12.
Stander was captain that day and he held onto the hurt that he felt and that, he knows, then Munster coach Anthony Foley felt. That hurt was a good motivator when Munster took on Connacht at Thomond Park again, last weekend.
Johann van Graan only needed to speak with Stander over the holiday period to settle on the plan of the forward captaining Munster again when Connacht came to town.
The 27-year-old had a great game in Munster's 38-13 victory over a Connacht side that started well but faded after the break and were not helped by a yellow card for Quinn Roux.
Following the game, and his usual round of hand-shakes with the press pack, Stander spoke about the vow he made to himself about taking on Connacht at his patch again.
"It is something that stays with you. You can't get over that sometimes. I remember that day coming back in the changing-room and everyone was down, Axel wasn't happy at all. It stays in the back of your head. I felt that if I could lead a team from the front then it wouldn't happen again.
"They played exceptionally well that year and at the end of it [the league] won it. That [Bundee Aki] try they scored at the end was exceptional.
"They were a great team. We made sure that we didn't give them momentum in their carries. We wanted to stop them. They had a few good plays and showed that they can hurt teams."
That word hurt again. Sometimes it is best not to let the bad stuff drag you down but, for Stander and his Munster teammates, they tapped into it and used it to their advantage.
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