CJ Stander’s hopes of stepping straight into the Ireland squad have already taken a step forward after he met with coach Joe Schmidt last week.
The new Munster skipper has been in sparkling form for Anthony Foley's side and recently became Irish qualified on the completion of his third year with the province.
Stander has been widely tipped to step straight into the Ireland squad for next year’s Six Nations and he confirmed he has already been sounded out by the Ireland boss.
“I saw him [Schmidt] at training last week. We had a quick chat. He just asked me what was my plan and if we were going to go forward,” said Stander.
“It was good to meet him on a different side. The previous times, I was just shaking his hand and saying, ‘Hey coach, hello’ and all that stuff.
“He just said: ‘Keep playing like you’re playing and we’ll talk to you come January’. I just want to concentrate on myself and Munster.”
Munster open their Champions Cup campaign this Saturday with a home fixture against Treviso at Thomond Park and with his last-gasp drop-goal block down against Edinburgh fresh in the mind, Stander is likely to play another huge role in the backrow.
But he knows that Pro12 form will count for little when Schmidt sits down to select his next Ireland squad. Traditionally it is European performances that are the most eye-catching.
“That’s what I need. I want to improve. I want to be the best eight in Europe.
“It’s great from my side to get that chat with him in. He knows what my plan is and I know what his plan is.
“That’s also a good thing, I try to be as good as I can be in the jersey I’m playing. If I’m getting judged for Munster, I’m going to get the same judgment from up there [in Ireland camp].
“It was great from my side just to chat with him about Irish rugby. It means he knows I’m here and he’s looking at me and our games.”
Meanwhile, Foley says he has no concern about Keith Earls’ concussion, despite it being the winger’s second such injury in the last 10 weeks.
Earls suffered a cut forehead, black eye and concussion in the dying stages of last weekend’s win over Edinburgh, but Foley says he would be more worried if he had picked it up from an innocuous challenge.
The Munster winger suffered his last concussion in Ireland’s pre-World Cup warm-up against Wales at the end of August, but was back in time for the team’s first pool game against Canada.
To date, Earls has passed all of the return-to-play tests and took a light part in training yesterday, but he will have to be assessed as the week progresses to see if he can play.
“He’s passed all his impact tests up to this point, he wanted to train today and he did a bit of running and passing today. He needs to do a bit more and just remain symptom-free and hopefully he’ll be available,” said the Munster coach.
“The last play of the game when he went back into the corner to tackle the player, you can see it. I think he might have caught an elbow or something but he hit the ground.
“. . . Straight away when he did the impact tests after the game he was passed, and since then every test he’s done has been passed. At times you catch a stray elbow out there and that’s life unfortunately.”
Foley's only injury worry for Saturday's game is Tyler Bleyendaal who is struggling with a quad injury, while the citing of Gerhard van den Heever for a dangerous tackle in last weekend's win against Edinburgh could also rule him out.