Friday 19 January 2018

It's been a while since we've won in Dublin - it's a big target for us

Player Diary: Billy Holland

Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell practises his kicking during training in UL. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell practises his kicking during training in UL. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Billy Holland

This fixture against Leinster always sticks out of the list like a beacon and considering it's almost exactly three years since our last victory at the Aviva Stadium, it's one we're really keen to win.

As well as the Leinster games, we've slipped up against Saracens and Scarlets there last season and when you add in Leinster's good early-season form, we are rightly regarded as underdogs.

The amount of Lions and internationals they have in their team is huge. They have class the whole way across their squad. Earlier this week we were trying to pick their back-row and a good few different guesses were produced and none of them were weaker than the other.

These derbies are always extremely physical. Guys know each other so well from countless battles over the years. That familiarity and festering sparks always guarantee a feisty affair.

We feel like we have nothing to lose; we're looking forward to the challenge; we're not daunted by it.

Respect

If I start, I'll likely be facing Dev Toner and Scott Fardy. I've played against Dev since my school days in Christians when he was in Castleknock. I have utmost respect for him; I think he is an outstanding player and in my opinion he was unlucky not to go with the Lions. Fardy has brought an added bite to their team.

He's an international back-row playing in the second-row. He brings experience and athleticism to their pack, he's strong in the lineout and can poach on the ground. They are already a strong partnership, but as a unit we're excited by the challenge.

Last weekend's win has certainly given us a good lift ahead of this derby. Coming off Glasgow we were frustrated because we were so poor there and we wanted to go out against Cardiff and try and set down a physical marker. Consequently, some of the finer aspects of our game weren't up to scratch in the first half. We got unlucky a couple of times, a few offloads didn't go to hand, but things like our exits weren't accurate enough.

Considering we conceded six or seven penalties in the first half, it was important that we stamped that out immediately. I think we kept the penalty count down to one or two after that, which was a four-fold improvement. But we can't be having those halves where you conceded so many penalties; you will get fried by better opposition. We gave them easy points and easy exits. Normally, we pride ourselves on our discipline, and being poor there gives teams an easy 'in'.

There was plenty of positives from the game, but the injury picked up by Jaco Taute was a real downer. It's awful to see bad injuries happen to anybody, but particularly to your own team-mates. Jaco has had knee injuries before and we know he'll bounce back from this. He is one of the most mentally strong fellas I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. To see him in a bit of pain isn't a nice thing, but hopefully he'll make a quick recovery whatever the prognosis may be.

At the opposite end of the scale, I was thrilled for a couple of lads as JJ Hanrahan made a dream return and Ian Keatley had a stormer in the 10 shirt. JJ went away for two years and with his first opportunity off the bench he scores two tries. It was a nice little cameo return for him. It was also great to see Keats go out and get man of the match and he put in a brilliant kicking and playmaking performance.

The two of them have had plenty of battles over the years for that No 10 position and now with Tyler and Bill Johnston there too we have huge competition. All the 10s want to play every game but how they work together and play off each other is very important.

Scoring tries catches the eye, but one of the most pleasing aspects for us was how we kept them out at the end of the game. They had two five-metre maul opportunities, but we covered well and tackled them out in the corner. Yes it's great to score the tries, but keeping that line intact at the end tastes just as sweet.

While most of our week is consumed with homework on the opposition, there is always time made for a bit of chat and slagging about the club game, and with the league back in action we are all nailing our colours to the mast. Everyone that came up through the province has a real soft spot for the club game seeing as we got such a strong grounding there.

The last few weeks Mike Sherry has been getting some massive game-time with Garryowen. Ciarán Parker has been doing likewise with UL Bohs as have several of the lads in the squad. I am a massive fan of the club game; it's an integral part of why Munster has done well over the years.

I remember playing in an All-Ireland Cup final for Con against Garryowen around 2009 or 2010. Our team included Stephen Archer, Peter O'Mahony, Duncan Williams and Simon Zebo, while Garryowen had lads like Conor Murray, Mike Sherry, Damien Varley and Keith Earls. 

Playing for the 'A' team is important, but it is in those finals and derbies that you learn how to win tight games with something huge on the line. I firmly believe that it was that know-how built up in the club game that got us over the line two seasons ago when we needed to win a few games to get into Europe. They were cup finals for us and we fought hard for the wins.

Perhaps the club game isn't as fast and skilful as the professional game, but the rivalry, physicality and intensity gets you ready to take the next step. I'm sure those games will help us this weekend.

Irish Independent

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