Tuesday 19 September 2017

A welcome break and a chance to reacquaint myself with Cork

Player Diary: Billy Holland

Billy Holland: ‘I felt a bit rusty two or three weeks ago, but I felt sharp last weekend.’ Photo: Sportsfile
Billy Holland: ‘I felt a bit rusty two or three weeks ago, but I felt sharp last weekend.’ Photo: Sportsfile

Billy Holland

With a couple of free weekends ahead and no game to prepare for, many of the lads have taken the chance to head to the likes of Lanzarote and London for a few days. My holiday entails a trip to my beloved Cork to spend some quality time at home!

I have fallen between two stools in terms of rest periods this season so far (a good complaint to have). When Munster were off in November and January, I was up in Irish camp, and when the starting Irish guys were given time off over Christmas, I was with Munster. That group of lads that don't start for Ireland are required by their provinces too, so this few days off is most welcome for me.

It is more of a mental break than anything. We still have training programmes to do as prescribed by Aled Walters, our head of S&C, but even a change of scenery is a break. Instead of running round UL, I'll be back at Temple Hill doing a few laps again!

I have a few odd jobs to take care of around the house too, a bit of painting, and the back garden has to be rotavated. I have a pre-marriage course to attend this weekend too, which has been hard to organise with our hectic schedule.

Nerves

Going into the break on the back of a win is brilliant. Having lost at home to Cardiff and with last year's defeat over there fresh in the minds, there was a bit of nerves around the place ahead of the game. I think losing to Scarlets at Thomond Park the previous week added a bit to that tension.

Playing into a really strong wind we were relatively happy to only trail 6-3 at half-time. We had defended well, but in the second-half, after camping in their 22 for ten minutes, all of a sudden we were behind our own posts after an intercept. At times like that you wonder if things were going against us, but we kept at it.

Those moments in games are pivotal. We knew things were going against us a touch. Illness ruled Dave Foley out the day before the game, then Darren O'Shea went down and Dave O'Callaghan was pushed into the second-row for the first time in quite a while. To compound all that Keats went off and we were forced to adapt on the hoof.

When those setbacks happen, set-piece and first-phase attack becomes a bit more difficult. The guys coming in are quality players, but they might not have trained in that position during the week. That familiarity is needed for key plays to run smoothly, but in general attack and defensive play, it doesn't make as much difference.

The strength in depth we have now is huge. The arrival of Francis Saili had a massive impact on the game. His try was typical of him, very sharp play to spot the gap, and that was crucial. Then Rory Scannell, who had to step into No 10, did the business also. He had missed a couple of chances and was annoyed with his place-kicking up to that point, so to step forward and take on the drop goal with confidence was admirable.

Conor Oliver's try was the icing on the cake and we were absolutely delighted after the game. Some days things go smoothly and you win, but other times you have to work through it. It's those wins that are the sweetest.

We were all delighted with ourselves afterwards, but in particular it was a big occasion for Fineen Wycherley who made his senior debut. From what I've seen so far, he is a real prospect for the future with an ability to pick things up very quickly, which is a valuable trait in my eyes.

You say something to him, you don't have to say it again. He would have taken part in very few lineouts with us this season, but stepped in for a session two weeks ago and got everything right. Some guys might be doing those drills for a few years and still make errors. All academy players have the ability and the strength required, but the hunger to make is what sets guys apart. Fineen was on for 13 minutes in Cardiff and I thought he was outstanding. You'll see a lot more from him in the future.

From a personal point of view, it was great to be back playing regular rugby in recent weeks. When you fall between Ireland and Munster responsibilities it is tough. If you are not in the match-day 23 for Ireland you can sometimes miss out a little with your province. I definitely felt a bit rusty two or three weeks ago, but I felt back fit and sharp last weekend and I really enjoyed my game.

If you are away all week in international camp it is tough to get straight into the starting 15. You are either on the bench or not involved at all so I really enjoyed being back in for the last couple of weeks.

Don't get me wrong, it's great being up in Irish camp and it's where you want to be, but I love playing for Munster so much, so I'm very happy to be back here for the last week or two and getting regular game-time again.

We were all given a real lift lately when Mark Chisholm returned to full training with us. He's had an horrendous 12 months of it and it took him a long time to return from concussion. The protocols are very strict these days and rightly so.

I actually got concussed in the same game against the Dragons last March. I was fortunate enough to be able to play two weeks later but 12 months on Chiz still hasn't played a game. The guy has trained really hard over the last couple of months and to have him around all the young fellas in the squad is brilliant.

In the last fortnight at training he has brought another level of intensity to the sessions and with so many lads away with Ireland that is vital. It's a massive thing for him to be back, and we're all thrilled.

Irish Independent

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