Holland backing Munster to kick on after 'crucial' Belfast victory
Published 05/01/2016 | 02:30
The gloom lifted for Munster at tea-time last Saturday and second-row Billy Holland is hopeful that the positive beginning to 2016 can see some new-found optimism around Thomond Park.
The 30-year-old has not been able to play much of a role this season, completing his first 80 minutes since last year's Guinness Pro12 final at the same venue last Saturday as the Reds stopped their losing run by overcoming Ulster away from home.
After five defeats on the trot, the 9-7 victory was a real fillip for Anthony Foley's side ahead of their back-to-back meetings with French champions Stade Francais, who got a boost of their own on Sunday by beating Toulouse 18-17.
A win at the Stade Jean-Bouin would revive Munster's ailing European campaign after the successive defeats to Leicester Tigers last month and, with the win over Ulster keeping them firmly in the Pro12 play-off hunt at the half-way stage, Holland (right) is seeing the sunny side of his team's season.
"We are still alive in everything," he said. "We just had an awful five weeks where we played some good rugby but just came out the wrong side of the results.
"This is a results-based business. The only thing that matters is getting the win so it was crucial that we got something out of Ulster, going into three European weeks in a row.
"It doesn't get any easier when you are in a 16-week block of games, it's very difficult to turn things like that around, so hopefully this can kick-start the next run for us."
Holland warned his team-mates that beating Ulster won't cure all that ails the Reds and wants some more improvements in the French capital.
"It won't give us the win next weekend but it will help give lads a bit of confidence," he said.
"There are a lot of young fellas playing there, and new lads in the team like (Francis) Saili. It's a snowball effect: when you are winning you get the rub of the green, when you are losing like the last five weeks it tends to go the opposite way.
"We put a stop to the dam (against Ulster) and hopefully that will help kick us off for the next few weeks."
Key to Munster's ability to overcome the French side will be the availability of a host of big names who are touch-and-go for the trip to Paris.
The province released an injury update on Andrew Conway (bruised hip), Keith Earls (neck), Dave Foley (dead leg), Conor Murray (hip) and Donnacha Ryan (knee) yesterday, but were non-committal on their availability for the clash. Rory Scannell also suffered a dead leg against Ulster but should recover in time.
Meanwhile, Connacht have handed full contracts to academy graduates Sean O'Brien and Peter Robb from next season.
Both prospects made their senior debuts on the province's trip to Siberia against Enisei-STM and have played a part in Pat Lam's plans since.
Galway-born back-row O'Brien (21) is a former Ireland U-20 captain who has been highly regarded since his schooldays at Cistercian, Roscrea, while hard-carrying centre Robb (21) also lined out for the U-20s.