Tuesday 23 July 2019

Holland: Paris outfit are fitter than they get credit for

Munster's Billy Holland. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster's Billy Holland. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

It is a tale as old as time, the mega-rich and star-studded French side will fade if the plucky Irish can roll with the punches and ride out the storm.

And, like all clichés, there has been truth to it down through the years. Even in their quarter-final win over Toulon, Munster were able to keep their feet despite a flurry of big blows and come out the other side.

Racing, however, are a different proposition, according to Munster second-row Billy Holland, and the sight of the French side finishing both pool games between the sides on the front-foot would appear to back him up.

At Thomond Park, Munster were lucky to escape when a late lineout drive was held up, while in Paris they were fortunate that the Top 14 side opted for the posts with a late penalty when they were going for the bonus point.

And Munster second-row Holland reckons his old team-mate Donnacha Ryan has helped drive the fitness standards since arriving last summer.

"They've always been a quality side but I think they've gotten fitter and I think they've a never-say-die attitude, and you've seen that in a couple of their games this year, and particularly when he's been playing," Holland said.

"You look at the eight guys they're bringing off the bench. I think in that game at Thomond Park they brought on a guy who is 140 kilos (22 stone) and a fella who is 155 kilos (24 stone).

"We're bringing on quality players... Jack O'Donoghue came on that day, and he's maybe 110 kilos (17 stone). It's momentum.

"They had momentum at that part of the game and they certainly have finished stronger.

"I think it's an ill-founded perception that Irish teams are a lot fitter than French teams. I think they've improved massively. They have such power and mass that it probably takes more out of you, and I think Racing have probably got fitter as the season has gone on.

"I don't know if that is anything to do with Donnacha or what but over the last month or so every week you've seen them; you've (prop) Ben Tameifuna who played 45 minutes against us, and I think he played 70 or 80 minutes regularly enough, which he wouldn't have done in January."

Although they respect what Racing are about, there is a confidence about Munster going to France on the back of that Toulon win and their victories on tour in South Africa.

Last year's loss to Saracens was their fifth successive semi-final defeat and the long-serving Holland wants to change the record.

"Keith Earls is the only man still involved who has played in a European final," he said.

"Personally, it would mean the world to me; I suppose the older you get the more you realise how difficult it is to get to this stage of a competition.

"In the week that is in it, you are not going to try and get too emotional, too caught up in how great the euphoria would be. From a personal point of view, I have dreams of winning European Cup but you cannot sit there and dream about it.

"You have to focus on the technical side of things to help get us that step further than we were there last year.

"When you come to a semi-final, the differences between the sides are so small.

"Last year against Saracens we sat back a little bit too much and hopefully we've learned from that and we can go a step further this season."

Irish Independent

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