Friday 20 October 2017

Billy Holland: 'We are now very good at correcting mistakes on the pitch'

Strong provincial results have followed Irish debut in year to remember for second-row

Concentration is the name of the game for Billy Holland in training. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Concentration is the name of the game for Billy Holland in training. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Daragh Small

Now in the prime of his career, Billy Holland fits in perfectly with the renaissance ongoing in Irish and Munster Rugby. Both teams have their successes this season, and it meant for a gruelling campaign for the 31-year-old.

He won his first cap for his country this season, and 25 years on from the first time he played the game for his club, he has never been so busy.

Being on the periphery of the Irish match-day 23 means he is regularly called up to camp at Carton House, and then when he returns he sometimes wears the captain's armband for his beloved Munster.

And he has been a central figure as they marched into the Champions Cup quarter-finals, and got back to prominence in the Pro12 too. Munster are a force again, and after a few seasons of mediocrity the future looks bright once more.

"We are in a position where we are very good at correcting mistakes on the pitch now. When things are going wrong and we are losing we have been very good at problem-solving during a game and finding ways to make it work, finding ways to get into the opposition 22," says Holland.

"And that coupled with some moments of individual brilliance this season, with drop-goals and penalties and last-minute tries. It doesn't matter what the team is like, it still requires an individual to do something very special late in the game.

"We are lucky to have incredibly skilled and talented individuals in the squad. We train very hard, we like to think we are a fit team, and we know that we can keep going for 80 minutes.

"Even in the Scarlets game where we lost by nine points, we were hammering their line for the last few minutes and it was through our own errors that we couldn't convert, but by and large we always manage to get over the line."

Holland sounds like a confident leader, and they are the sentiments echoed by the entire Munster squad all throughout this season. And it's something that he puts down to move to UL, and their new High Performance Centre.

"It was needed over the last number of years, just to be together. We are way further down the line with where Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber want us to be, along with the other coaches. You are recovering better, you are getting to know your team-mates better by spending more time with them. It's just really good for the squad."

But when he is not bonding with his team-mates in Limerick, Holland is back in Cork, in his new home in Blackrock with his fiancée Lanlih - they are set to get married in June.

Holland is looking forward to some busy months ahead, but he thrives on constantly evolving on and off the pitch, and earlier this year he was really tested.

Adversity

Everyone was shocked by the passing of Anthony Foley in October, but the way Munster battled through that adversity gripped the whole rugby sphere.

"It's a sink or swim thing for a squad. It brought us closer together. It puts everything into perspective. It puts the real meaning on life. What we are doing, it is big business, and a livelihood but at the end of the day it's just sport.

"That has helped a lot of guys to play with a bit more freedom. There are a hell of a lot worse things that can happen than losing a game. The coaching group have dealt with Axel's passing very well. We talk about Axel constantly, we are talking about him nearly every day.

"We got three or four months of coaching out of him. He was our head coach for the previous two years. But he was spending so much time, hands on, skills coaching with lads which he was best at. That is evident in lads' performances this year."

Now on the other end of a treacherous period in the club's history, Munster have control of their destiny and they welcome Toulouse to Thomond Park for their Champions Cup quarter-final on April 1.

Holland made his Ireland debut at the age of 31 earlier in the campaign, but one week earlier got to experience at first-hand the historic victory over the All Blacks in Solider Field.

"Chicago was amazing. There was 27 of us over there, there were four lads who weren't in the match-day 23. But you did the warm-up and trained hard all week. Even though I wasn't on the 23 you do feel a part of it. Some of the best players on the pitch that day were Munster lads.

"Conor Murray was the best player, but then you have CJ and Donnacha Ryan. All of them lads were monumental that day.

"They are your team-mates, they are your friends. It was special to be there with them. It was a special day for Irish rugby."

And after watching his team-mates perform at the top level and see off the best the world has to offer, it left Holland in doubt that he is part of something special right now.

"There are guys there who are beating the best team in the world, and you are challenging these guys for their positions. It just shows the standard that we are at in the moment in Munster and Irish rugby. Ireland have beaten all three southern hemisphere teams in the last year and there have Munster guys involved there.

"It has to give confidence to guys like myself, that even though you are not quite there, you are not in that group of starting Irish lads you are within touching distance of it."

Irish Independent

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