"You just have to keep knocking at that door, breaking that wall" - CJ Stander 2 months ago

"You just have to keep knocking at that door, breaking that wall" - CJ Stander

Munster have now lost five semi-finals in a row, with three of them coming against their old rivals.

As Leo Cullen and Johnny Sexton looked ahead to another Guinness PRO14 final in the main press conference room at the Aviva Stadium [albeit answering questions through Microsoft Teams], Johann van Graan and CJ Stander were next door.

In a room that is usually reserved for photographers, and would be a hub of frenzied activity on most match days, van Graan and Stander tried their best not to get mired in the reality of another semi-final defeat. It's not even the final hurdle. Munster are falling before they get there.

There have been some heroic, tank-emptying performances in Europe but the Guinness PRO14, and its previous iterations, has proved starker. They reached finals in 2015 and 2017 but were out-played in both by Glasgow and Scarlets. 2018, 2019 and 2020 has seen them paired off with Leinster and the away team for a semi-final. For the most part, Leinster have been able to keep them at arm's length and do what was necessary to reach the final.

Stander, rightly, reflected that Leinster are a world-class outfit so a lot more needed to break his side's way if they were to dethrone the reigning champions. Two missed penalties were costly, in the second half, and Munster not advancing on the scoreboard after the fifth minute was never going to do it.

JJ Hanrahan JJ Hanrahan misses a second half penalty as CJ Stander and Fineen Wycherley looks on. (Credit: Sportsfile)

While van Graan, the Munster head coach, was left ruing the fact that Munster finished second in their conference - and had to face Leinster, not Ulster - Stander was clinging to the positives.

Asked if the stream of semi-final losses was demoralising, Stander shook his head. "Not really. We know that we get to a semi-final of the play-offs and we need to be at our best.

"I think, 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. Sometimes, you said five times [in a row] we are on the wrong side of it. It's like a door, mate. You just have to keep knocking at that door, breaking that wall.

"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, 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."

Asked what Munster needed to do better, in 2020/21 and beyond, Stander already had his, and his team's, target.

"Get to that top spot. If you're on top you don't have to play the [quarter] final, that would be an easy one. It will be tough work to get there. Get a home semi-final, get back to our place and get the crowd behind us and there you go. Easy as that."

Easy as that. Getting a fully packed out Thomond Park by the middle of 2021 may yet prove the trickiest of those Munster targets.