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Dublin: 5°C Saturday 27 February 2021

'You just have to keep knocking at that door': Stander undeterred by Munster's semi-final struggles

The number 8 vows to come back and challenge for more titles with Munster next year.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

THE PENULTIMATE HURDLE has been a thick glass ceiling for Munster in Europe. And Leinster have ensured the ‘domestic’ competition gives the southern province no reprieve.

Since making the Pro12 final in 2017, three times Johann van Graan has taken his team to Dublin for a Pro14 semi-final. Three times they have marked the end of their season there.

Throw in a few European bouts with Saracens and Racing 92 along the way and they have endured five straight losses at the final four stage.

When the fixture is set up, particularly with Leinster showing no signs of easing off the pedal amid their outrageous calendar-hopping winning streak, it almost felt foolhardy to even suggest Munster could upset the odds. Yet CJ Stander insisted there was no danger of his side feeling demoralised after Friday night’s fruitless effort.

“We know that we get to a semi-final of the play-offs and we need to be at our best,” said Stander.

“For me, it’s an honour to get to a semi-final. It would have been class to get to a final and win it, but we worked our asses off to get here.”

When it’s pointed out to Stander that they have indeed worked their asses off to get to and then lose five consecutive semi-finals in all competitions, he reasons:

“It’s like a door, mate. You just have to keep knocking at that door, breaking that wall.

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“I’m very excited about this group, as players and the coaching group I can see them growing and going places.

“You might not have seen it on Friday, but there’s some great stuff going on behind the scenes.

“So, hopefully next season we’re in a semi-final and we’ll push through and reach a final.”

While Munster were undoubtedly hampered by the loss of Joey Carbery, Dave Kilcoyne and Jean Kleyn to injury, the number eight says the biggest change they can make is to remove the uphill climb of an away semi-final.

jj-hanrahan-and-conor-murray-dejected Jack O'Donoghue and Conor Murray console JJ Hanrahan after the loss. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

On Saturday, Ulster became just the second team to win an away Pro14/12 semi-final. Consistently excellent performances through the full extent of the season would help Munster challenge for the top spot in their conference so they could bring opposition to Thomond Park – where, hopefully by next year’s playoffs, a crowd would help roar over the line Munster.

“There you go, easy as that,” Stander adds with a wry smile.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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