Friday 20 October 2017

Treviso win buried a few demons for lads after long wait for action

Player Diary: Billy Holland

Players enjoy a game of football tennis during training. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Players enjoy a game of football tennis during training. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Billy Holland

The memory of losing a final hits at random times and festers in the back of your mind.

Firstly, you wake up every morning and you are sick to the stomach about what happened. It passes for a while, but it stays there over the holidays.

It is frustrating when your last game is a final and if you lose it you have four-and-a-half weeks before you see the lads again. Some lads got away on national duty and shook it off a bit quicker, but others had to stew. For me, it was nearly three months before I got back to playing, so winning well against Treviso last weekend helped banish the ghosts.

We were outplayed by the Scarlets at the Aviva and that's a really tough one to take. It helped me that I got married the week after the final, as my mind was busy with a hundred-and-one jobs, so getting away from the game was most welcome. It's only when you sit down and relax that you realise how much you needed the break.

After our wonderful honeymoon we ended our three weeks in Italy for Duncan Williams' wedding. He was one of my groomsmen and I was his, while my wife Lanlih was bridesmaid for Duncan's wife, just as she had been at our wedding.

Ticking

I'd say I did the least training in the off season that I ever did. We had a great break, I got back to Ireland on the Monday and on the Wednesday pre-season started. It was straight back into it.

I did a few hill runs and an odd gym session while I was away, but most importantly the head was fresh, which was the main thing.

I'm lucky I am naturally fit anyway, but I still kept ticking over. The fitness team had given us all three targets to meet when we came back: weight, fat and fitness targets had to be reached. If you missed two of the three you would be in a bit of bother. Luckily, I made two out of the three - my weight was a bit below what it should be, but it didn't take long to build myself back up again after a few days in the gym.

You are expected to be in good condition for pre-season, you can't spend the first three weeks getting back to where you had been. It is all about being ready to make gains.

After all the tough weeks it was good to get back playing in Cork. The fact that we were efficient and clinical in the first half was pleasing. We did the basics very well before half-time, but we just switched off a little bit in the second half. They got a bit more physical too and we didn't handle that as well as we'd have liked. But any time you run in five tries in the first half of your first game of the season it's not a bad outing. There were lots of positives to be had.

Guys always feel good when a pre-season goes well, but competitive matches are always different. I felt a touch rusty at times, but to come out with a win like that is great. It has given us something to build on.

Alongside me at the weekend was Jean Kleyn and the big man made quite the impact on his return. JK had an unfortunate injury last year and he has rehabbed it well. He is a big unit but wouldn't normally carry too many balls around the try-line; still, he managed to slide over for two the other day. 

Any time someone comes back from long-term injury the squad is delighted. Mike Sherry got 40 minutes having been out for 16 or 17 months, so it was brilliant to see him back on the pitch, while Robin Copeland and Jean featured as well. Dan Goggin's injury was a real dampener, but there was a lot of positives for the squad.

We had five guys making their Guinness PRO14 debuts: Liam 'Boomer' O'Connor, Ciaran Parker, Sean O'Connor, James Hart and Chris Farrell all made their first starts for us.

'Boomer' had half of the north side of Cork city out to support him the other night, so it's great to again have another local player getting the recognition he deserves.

It's back to Limerick though this weekend and we are expecting quite the test from Cheetahs in their first trip to Thomond Park. I watched their game against Ulster and they are a very exciting side - they scored three tries and could have scored another couple.

They look like they have a philosophy that whatever you score, they'll look to score more tries than you, so it's good to for the competition to see a side with that ethos coming into the league.

On the other hand, they clearly put a huge amount of work into their lineout. They are one of the best lineout defensive sides that I've seen in quite a while. They put a lot of effort on contesting, trying to disrupt and steal your ball, and they are very good at it. 

We're lucky to have Jacques and Rassie to identify their strengths but Cheetahs must spend hours on end on their homework. They caused Ulster problems on their ball, and it was the same for their Currie Cup games. They often steal more balls than the opposition wins on their own lineout. It will be a tough weekend in that regard.

But I think in general it's going to be a great night for the crowd. I'm sure the Thomond Park supporters are excited about seeing a new team here as it's a first for a South African club side to play here.

Exciting

They have a big South African pack, but they run everything. They have four South African Sevens players in their back line and that says it all.

Considering they are such an exciting team, it will be a real challenge for us. For supporters, it will be a good day out but for us we are hoping to limit that excitement.

We know they have nothing to lose here. They're touring here for the first time ever and gave Ulster a good run for their money, so facing into a couple of home games, they'd love a win here. It will be a real battle.

Irish Independent

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