Thursday 18 January 2018

Game changer Holland keen to drive Munster on

Johnny Holland: Bright point. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Johnny Holland: Bright point. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Amid the sense of relief that followed the full-time whistle, it was easy to forget the tension that engulfed Irish Independent Park on Friday night.

With six minutes remaining, Munster were only a point ahead of the Edinburgh team they simply had to beat to keep their European hopes alive.

When the province needed a leader, their least experienced player stepped up.

Deep in his own half, Johnny Holland received Jason Tovey's rather aimless high ball and looked up to see the Scottish chasers closing in.

Rather than take the conservative option, the 24-year-old dinked the ball over their heads and raced through to nail Dougie Fife. His enthusiasm was followed by three of his forwards who sensed their opportunity and dominated the ruck battle, securing the turnover.

In the next phase, it was Holland who sensed that Edinburgh were on the back foot and made a half-break that led to a penalty at the ruck.

It laid the groundwork for the Francis Saili try that released the pressure and moved Munster closer to Champions Cup security.


Others played their part, but Holland made the move.

"I was just thinking something had to happen and I felt I hadn't got on the ball in a while," was his own memory of that moment.

"I wasn't looking to pull a rabbit out of the hat before I got that ball. I just gathered it, but if I passed it on I was putting somebody else under pressure so it just happened. Some of the times you just think of these things."

For a former Sundays Well player who grew up in Cork, doing it on home soil made it all the more special.

"I'm literally living five minutes over the road I was looking forward to the game so much; probably too much," he recalled.

"I had a lot of people coming to the game for me personally and a lot of the people had interest in the game for us. You could hear them out there. Even that 44 minute period (when Munster didn't score) they were getting behind us.

"The ground is unbelievable, the crowd is very close you can nearly hear conversations going on in the crowd. It's a great place to play."

Holland's emergence has been a real bright point of a dark few months at Munster.

He missed most of the season with injury, but impressed on his return and was handed a starting jersey against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium; performing well before being controversially replaced by Ian Keatley as the game entered the business end.

Tellingly, even though his side went through an agonising 44-minute period without scoring, Anthony Foley kept faith with his young out-half, leaving Keatley in the stand.

"To be selected for that Leinster game was probably a game changer for me," Holland said. "It showed a bit of confidence behind me for a player only coming into the squad. I was massively nervous for it obviously as you would be, I didn't expect it to go so well for me personally but we lost and I'd trade that in a heartbeat for the win.

"But I was happy with my performance and it does give you the impetus to drive on.

"I don't expect to play the full game. I think it's my 10th game or something and with someone like Keats on the bench, who has a lot of experience at this level; he has something like over 200 games at this level.

"It's great for my confidence. I haven't gotten 80 minutes under my belt in a long time. It's been tough coming back from injury and trying to catch up with lads. It takes a while to get used to it.

"I think with how tough the games were against Leinster and Connacht it set me up well for playing 80 for a change."

Holland isn't about to hand the No 10 shirt back any time soon and he is keen to finish the job by beating the Scarlets at Thomond Park on Saturday.

"Champions Cup is non-negotiable. Everybody speaks about it for a reason so that's up to us to go and get it and the win over Edinburgh was the first step to doing it but we have one more to go though," he said.

Irish Independent

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