Monday 29 May 2017

We've come a long way in the last 12 months - and we're going to enjoy it

Player Diary: Billy Holland

CJ Stander goes through his stretching routine
CJ Stander goes through his stretching routine

Billy Holland

Being in the last four of Europe is where we want to be. We haven't been there in three years and now that we're back in the semi-final we want to make it count.

I was a travelling reserve for the Toulon game in 2014, and the year before against Clermont I was on the bench but I didn't get on.

I've never played a Champions Cup semi-final; not many of our squad have, but before Toulouse not too many of us had played a quarter-final either. It is all new to a lot of us, but it is really exciting. There's such a buzz around here.

When you consider where we were 12 months ago, battling to get into the top six of the Guinness Pro12, and now we're one win away from a European final, it's testament to the work that the squad has put in over the last couple of years. These kind of runs in competitions don't just happen overnight. 

Reward

Last season we were doing a lot of good stuff but we just weren't getting reward for it.

Look at the last two weekends where we had battling wins against Ulster and Glasgow: we would have lost those games last year. In those two games, we played fairly well without playing to our full potential and we've managed to get the win, which was all that mattered really.

Without doubt, we weren't fully on our game against Ulster at the beginning.

Conceding a try from a maul showed that. It's the first maul try we conceded all season and that was a massive disappointment. It is something that we pride ourselves on. Your maul defence is a great indicator of where your attitude is.

From the off Ulster were slightly better than us, but that's the quality we have in the squad: we are mentally strong enough to come back from being beaten up at the start of the game, and finish strongly.

With regard to the maul defence, it is better to learn that lesson last Saturday in victory, than up in the Aviva tomorrow. There will be no room for soft errors like that tomorrow.

You need to have the belief in yourselves to grind out a win like that. Having that is vital before facing a Saracens side who play a similar style to us: they don't play a whole lot of ball in their own half, they have an excellent defence, they are very physical. It is going to be two similar teams battling it out.

A big focus for us this week is about enjoying the build-up and the game itself. We want to savour being where we are. You work hard to get to the knock-out stages of Europe and we need to enjoy this experience, it can't be a burden.

Yes, we are going in as underdogs, but we need to believe we can win.

All season long, being together Monday to Wednesday makes our work a hell of a lot easier. We took it a step further this week when we gathered together on Sunday to watch the Saracens-Northampton game - our families, partners and kids all came along. We met at 3.0 on Easter Sunday in the Clayton Hotel in Limerick, had a bit of lunch and watched the game.

It was just a social gathering with a little bit of work involved. You do your analysis during the week, but watching a team over 80 minutes is a different feel, you see how they try to play the game. That was something different, we've never done that before and it was great to do it with our families.

It is a massive week also for the 'A' lads in the B&I Cup final tonight. I have the dubious honour of being the last Munster captain to lift a trophy for the club, in the B&I final back in 2012, but hopefully Cian Bohane will take that honour off my shoulders against Jersey.

It is a great week for them as well because those lads work so hard. Some of them have had a look-in with the seniors and some haven't, but how they all train is phenomenal.

They are part of the reason we are in the semi-final, I truly believe the training we do during the week has been the difference. It takes 40 players to reach the standards we want so I hope those lads get a result tonight.

Live feed

We won't be able to go to Cork as we'll be up in Dublin preparing for tomorrow, but we'll all get together and watch a live feed. It's a huge weekend for all of us.

I have heard that there are about 2,000 tickets sold to Saracens supporters for tomorrow, so the remaining 45,000 - bar a few neutrals - will be Munster supporters.

Sometimes I don't think the supporters understand how important they are to us.

Times like the Toulouse game, in the 65th minute when we were under serious pressure and only eight points up. We'd lost CJ, Pete and Earlsie and we were under savage pressure. We got a turnover at the edge of our 22 and suddenly the noise from the crowd was amazing. It gave us a big boost. 

The crowd can't win a game for you, but they certainly help you along the way. They give us energy and confidence.

Tomorrow will take a monumental effort from players, management and supporters but "nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty". I'm sure there will be plenty of that tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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