Munster's CJ Stander makes his Lions debut against the Auckland Blues on Wednesday
MUNSTER number eight CJ Stander says he feels ‘like a kid again’ ahead of his British and Irish Lions debut against the Auckland Blues at Eden Park on Wednesday morning, 8.35pm. (Live on Sky Sports)
Twenty seven-year-old Stander is included in Warren Gatland’s starting line-up to face the Super 15 side, while his Munster team-mate Peter O’Mahony is listed among the replacements for the game.
Stander said: “It’s like I feel like a kid again.
“When you get selected for that first team you can almost believe that you’re there, so I’m really looking forward to going out on Wednesday.
“It’s great to get the nod and there was excitement in the team room when the team was selected.
“I’m looking forward to it, I think everyone is going to get a chance to get a start, so it’s how you’re going to use it.
“I’m looking forward to that challenge. We’re a group that has a lot of talent, and a lot of guys who have X factor, so I’m looking forward to playing alongside that and just getting to know the lads.
“I put it down to the passion the boys have for the jersey and the excitement everyone has when they get selected.”
Stander was in the stands in Pretoria in 2009 for the second Test as the Lions fell to a narrow defeat to the Springboks.
Fast forward eight years and Limerick-based Stander is pulling on the red jersey himself for the first time in a back row that includes a Welshman in Justin Tipuric and an Englishman in James Haskell.
“It’s something that you’ve worked towards,” he added. “The passion the boys had in the jersey before, and the four nations coming together, and working towards one goal, to win a series, through a lot of hard work.
“Just be part of a squad based out of those four nations it means that you worked hard to get there. Your job is not done yet, but you’re part of it.
“Gats has made it quite clear that when you get a start you’re going to have to use it. So, I think you’ve got one opportunity really to go out there and play your game, to step up and show what you have for those last three games, because those are the important ones.
“All of them are important, but you want to start in those games.
“The competition is very strong, especially in the back-row in my department. I like a bit of a challenge, so it’s going to be a good game.”
The Blues named their side earlier on Monday – and at almost full strength it includes eight All Blacks in the starting XV but Stander is undaunted.
“They’re a good team, it’s a big step up again from last weekend,” he added.
“The physicality is going to be up there, the speed of the game is going to be up there so I’m looking forward getting back to that Super Rugby kind of game.