Sunday 27 May 2018

Bruising victory over Racing gives us great lift for challenges ahead

Munster players Billy Holland, Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, and CJ Stander in a huddle after the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 4 Round 2 match between Munster and Racing 92 at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster players Billy Holland, Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, and CJ Stander in a huddle after the European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 4 Round 2 match between Munster and Racing 92 at Thomond Park in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Billy Holland

It's always a challenge in switching out of European mode and getting your head around a six-day turnaround in preparing for a derby game up in Galway. If this wasn't derby week there might be a natural relaxation, but considering we've had a few real tough days of late in Galway we're all primed for this one. 

Early in the week the body was still sore and bruised after the Racing game, but having this game to look forward to had everyone keen to be involved. We recovered well early in the week and we are expecting another real tough battle tonight.

Last weekend was really hard going. Playing against such a big side really takes it out of you. I said it before the game that they could have put out two separate 15s and they'd all be household names.

Even though we were playing at home you got the feeling that this was a different Racing side to last year. They were a lot more ambitious; they have played a lot better so far this season. To come out of it with four points is a great return.

There are parts of our game that we were delighted with and other parts that need work, but conditions like that are sometimes a great leveller. It prevented us from moving the ball around as much as we'd have liked, but it slowed them up a little bit too. As with every European game you look to the result - four points - we'll take it and move on.

Massive I'm not sure if there has been a nil-all draw in Europe before, but at one stage it looked as if we might be heading that way. But a massive point for us was around the 50th minute when they had a couple of lineouts on our line and we managed to keep them out.

That was huge - we took massive encouragement from that. Even three points from a penalty would have put us on the back foot, so to keep them at bay was significant. We also realised that if we didn't pull our socks up it was only a matter of time before they scored, and Conor got his try which turned the game in our favour.

But even after the few scores, they could bring on guys like Edwin Maka, nearly 150kg, which is so difficult to cope with. Considering we were tired after 75 minutes of effort, they are battering our line and we already conceded an average of a stone per man in the pack, I thought we held out really, really well. 

Last week was notable too because we had Johann van Graan in for the first time. He seems like a really nice fella. He spent most of last week in and around the place, but he had plenty of other things to take care of too, like looking for a house. 

Having another lineout nerd coming into the set-up is a great thing for us. I'm sure he'll be a great addition to the brains trust. It is always great to have a set of fresh eyes on what you're doing. He has worked with some of the best lineout operators in the world, so I'm sure he will have a few ideas and might change a few things or freshen up a few of our plays. I'm really looking forward to hearing what he has to say on that particular facet of the game.

It was a good first meeting though - he knew all of our names - and we had a good chat with him and we are all really looking forward to working with him.

He also went around the partners' box during the game too and introduced himself to all our better halves. That's a good sign of a man who takes the time to go and meet up and say hello to our families.

Earlier this week the big news was that Simon Zebo will be leaving us at the end of the season. It's bitterly disappointing to lose one of the best full-backs in the world from your club. We're an organisation with a small budget in comparison to a lot of other clubs out there and it is difficult to compete with the real big spenders.

Simon is one of the best players to have ever played for Munster. He is top try scorer, he has the X-factor that every team wants. You want players like him in the big games - he'll always come up with the big plays. I have played with him since he was 19 or 20 and he is an incredible talent. 

When you lose fellas like Donnacha Ryan and Zeebs in successive years it is real tough. But I'm also a big believer as a professional rugby player you have a short lifespan, your career is very short and he has two young kids and a partner. He needs to look after them however he sees fit.

I have no doubt that Munster went above and beyond in terms of what they could try and offer him, but if it is still a distance off what Racing can offer him can you blame him? Zeebs speaks fluent French, he is a fan of their way of life and I'm sure he'll love the experience. You'd wish him all the best over there.

But it's not as if he's going tomorrow - we still have lots of games to try and win, starting in Galway tonight.

Since Kieran Keane has taken over Connacht certainly have changed things a bit. They definitely exit better from their own half than they had in recent seasons. They still play a high-tempo game, they move the ball quickly with quick throw-ins and tap-and-goes, but they seem to have added a bit more nous to their game.

They are a bit savvier in what they are trying to do with the ball and where in the pitch they do it. You'll see a lot of running rugby from them but they won't be doing it willy-nilly either.

After the last few weeks I'd say both teams would love a bit of decent weather to play in, but whatever the conditions, we're ready to go again.

Irish Independent

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