Thursday 27 June 2019

Analysis: Billy Holland's brave lineout call pays dividends for Munster

Experienced lock came up with a match-winning steal late in the day

Munster's Billy Holland. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster's Billy Holland. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The roar reverberated around Thomond Park as if Munster had just scored a try for the ages.

Instead, the home crowd rose as one to acknowledge a match-winning moment from one of their own that proved to be every bit as important as any of Joey Carbery's three penalties.

It's not that long ago that Billy Holland weighed up his Munster future and tossed a coin before deciding whether or not to take up an offer from a club in the UK.

This time around, with 67 minutes on the clock and trailing 7-6, Holland, who had only just come on to the pitch, rolled the dice, but did so in a calculated and shrewd manner.

Defending a five-metre lineout, deciding to use two pods; one at the front and another at the tail, is a risky strategy at the best of times, let alone at such a crucial stage of the game against a formidable Exeter pack.

Had the English side won clean ball at the back of the lineout, they would have backed themselves to set up the maul from which they could build a platform to score a try that might well have knocked Munster out of the Champions Cup.

Since losing his place in the team to Tadhg Beirne, Holland also passed on the responsibility of calling the set-piece to Munster's new lock.

But when cool heads were called for, Holland's vast experience came to the fore. After all, this is a 33-year-old who has learned everything there is to know about the running of a lineout from some of the best operators, including Paul O'Connell.

What made the brave call all the more impressive was the fact that Munster had set up in the same manner in the build up to Don Armand's first-half try without having much success.

Holland is a self-confessed lineout nerd and is regularly seen putting in the extra hours on the computers at the club's high-performance centre in Limerick.

There are many moving parts to a lineout and even more so for one that involves two different jumping pods.

In Image 1a, we can see those two aforementioned pods as Peter O'Mahony (yellow) sets up at the front of the lineout between Jean Kleyn and CJ Stander, who are in position to lift their skipper.

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Image 1a

It is also important to highlight how close that front pod is set up to the five-metre channel.

When looking at the similarly positioned lineout later in the game, the subtle change here will be pivotal. Towards the rear of the set-piece, Tommy O'Donnell and Dave Kilcoyne lift Beirne (yellow), but Sam Skinner gets up ahead of him and wins clean ball off the top.

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Image 1b

Image 1b shows Beirne still coming down from the air as Exeter set up the maul with O'Mahony, Kleyn, John Ryan and Niall Scannell trying to recover and add their considerable bulk to the defensive set.

It's too late however, as the Chiefs, who are notoriously clinical from here, get a powerful shove on and while Munster do well to stop them just short of the line, the ball is recycled well and Armand crashes over.

To their credit, it's a really well-worked try from the visitors, who would have created doubts for Munster in how they went about defending the next five-metre lineout.

It's something that Holland will have taken note of from his vantage point on the bench and it would be no surprise if he had relayed that information to his team-mates.

Beirne has been doing an excellent job in calling the lineout this season, but when a knee injury ended his involvement last Saturday, just like he had done the previous week in Gloucester, Holland had a massive impact when he was introduced.


Last time out, his clever offload allowed Keith Earls to score in the corner, this time it was something that Holland is much more renowned for - a key lineout steal.

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Image 2a

In Image 2a, we can see that Munster have set up in a similar manner as (1a), except in this instance, O'Mahony is positioned further back from the five-metre channel.

This will effectively allow him to be closer to the second pod, which will make the target much more difficult for the hooker to hit.

It's a clever ploy and one that shows Munster have learned from their earlier defensive set-piece, but even still, it is an extremely brave call to go with the same lineout formation.

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Image 2b

The ball is again aimed for Skinner at the tail and Holland reads the throw like a book (2b). It must be said that he is helped by an outstanding lift from Stander and Jeremy Loughman, who has impressed recently.

Exeter are in position to set up the maul (white) and if they manage to win their own ball here, the Munster pack, whose numbers were set to be hampered again by the front pod being out of position, would have had a tough job to stop Rob Baxter's side rumbling over the whitewash.

Instead, Exeter are pinged for coming in at the side, which relieves the barrage of pressure that Munster had been under. Four minutes later, they go down the other end of the pitch and score the match-winning penalty through Carbery.

Games are won and lost on such tight margins and for Munster, this brave call, made by the wily Holland, ultimately kept their European hopes alive.

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