Captain Billy Holland ready to lead by example
Billy Holland has soldiered through the good and bad days with Munster without ever really getting the recognition he deserves.
Munster yesterday announced that Holland had signed a new two-year deal, and it is nothing more than his performances over the last couple of seasons have merited.
It wasn't until James Coughlan left Munster that a lot of supporters really appreciated what he brought to the province and Holland would arguably fall into a similar kind of bracket.
With Peter O'Mahony still out injured and CJ Stander likely to be playing a key role in Ireland's Six Nations campaign, Holland will assume the captain's responsibilities, but he's always been a player who leads by example.
Munster travel to Italy for the second time in a week as they face a Zebre side who have never beaten them.
For Holland, it's another chance to make up for lost time after he suffered a broken ankle when playing for Emerging Ireland last summer.
"It's something I'd be conscious of the whole time," he said of the responsibility on his shoulders.
"When we were losing throughout December, if I wasn't involved or on the bench I have felt a massive onus on me even if I wasn't there. I've been involved in the squad for quite a while.
"I felt partially responsible as a leader within the group even if I wasn't on the pitch. That's the way it works - you can't get the glory when you're there and push it to the side when you are not there."
Anthony Foley has handed a first competitive start to winger Darren Sweetnam. The former Cork hurler's chances to impress have been limited and with the likes of Simon Zebo and Keith Earls away on international duty, the next six weeks are crucial for him.
There are eight changes in total from the side that beat Treviso last weekend, with James Cronin being released by Ireland to start in the front-row, while full-back Andrew Conway returns from a hip injury.
There is also a welcome return for Dave O'Callaghan (adductor) as he is named amongst the replacements.
On the opposite side, former All Black and Connacht full-back Mils Muliaina is on the Zebre bench.
Holland again finds himself named in the back-row, and his versatility is something that has also proved invaluable to Munster in recent seasons.
"Rob Penney was of the opinion that if he had a choice, he would get five back-rows into the back five," Holland recalled.
"That was the way he played the game, that was the way he liked it. Going into the second-row, I got bigger, fatter, slower and stayed there and enjoyed it!
"I think six and second-row are very similar, they're very alike. Eight and seven are different ball games, but you have very similar roles.
"We need to improve technical aspects of our game such as scrum, lineout and not losing possession.
"We can't afford to look too far ahead, given we haven't earned the right.
"There were several matches where we'd be attacking the opposition 22 like against Leinster and Leicester and next thing we're under our own posts. The emotion is one thing and the technical side is another aspect of it."
Zebre are likely to frustrate Munster as they have often done in recent seasons but the Reds' resilience should ensure that they remain in the hunt for a crucial play-off spot.
Zebre - K Van Zyl; D Berryman, T Boni, M Pratichetti, M Visentin; K Haimona, L Burgess; A De Marchi, O Fabiani, P Ceccarelli; G Koegelenberg, M Bortolami (capt); E Caffini, J Meyer, J Cooks. Reps: E Coria, B Postiglioni, G Roan, F Ruzza, F Cristiano, G Toniolatti, M Muliaina, U Beyers.
Munster - A Conway; D Sweetnam, F Saili, R Scannell, R O'Mahony; I Keatley, T O'Leary; J Cronin, N Scannell, J Ryan; D Foley, M Chisholm; B Holland (capt), J O'Donoghue, R Copeland. Reps: M Sherry, D Kilcoyne, M Sagario, D O'Callaghan, S Buckley, D Williams, C Bohane, G van den Heever.
REF - D Phillips (IRFU)
Zebre v Munster,
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