Tuesday 11 December 2018

It’s great to be back in training and in contention for Racing battle

Player Diary: Billy Holland

Holland: It’s good to see Conor Oliver returning from injury. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Holland: It’s good to see Conor Oliver returning from injury. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

After a week's lay-off it is great to be back training this week and in contention for such a huge game in our season. All of us want to be involved against Racing 92 in Paris and with so much at stake, it promises to be a massive encounter.

Unfortunately, after defeats to Leinster and Ulster, I had to sit out the Connacht game due to concussion. I took a bit of a knock to the head in Belfast when carrying into contact in the opening minutes. I knew I didn't feel right when speaking to the medics and it was time to step back.

When you present those symptoms you have to come off. I went into the medical room to do the HIA, but with my symptoms they wouldn't even conduct the test, the medics called it straight away and that my game was done.

Touch wood, I haven't had problems with concussions. I'm playing rugby for 26 years and I have had a couple but they have been well spread out. I think it was a number of years since my last one against Dragons at Thomond Park.

There are such protocols in place now, you are very well looked after. You do HIA 2 after the game, then you do nothing for a few days before you come back in for HIA 3. If you pass that then you are allowed do a light bike session.

If that goes okay you can do a light run and once you clear that step you take part in ball-handling and skills. Only then can you return to full contact. The process is well monitored and documented and you know everyone is looking after you in the correct manner.

It's never nice getting injured, but particularly a concussion. It is not a nice injury, you never know how long it will last. It's not something that you can control or work on like a broken bone or muscle strain.

I am lucky that I have had so few concussions in my career, but funnily enough each of them have come when I have been carrying the ball rather than tackling. I think that's a pretty key point: I learned the skill of tackling at the age of six, I learned how to put my head on the right side of the tackle, I learned how to fall correctly.

Recently I heard talk of banning the tackle for kids in the game and I believe that's not the solution in terms of the sport. Learning to tackle is one of the most important skills of the game and it has to be taught to young players correctly. You can learn the skill at an older age, but it's best to start it as early as possible, eliminating the high tackle and any tackles to the neck and head area is key.

That was my Ulster experience and then five days later the Connacht game turned into a great win. Particularly in the second half, when I thought we were on the mark. In the first half I think there were some nerves around, which was natural.

There was a lot of weight on this game for us and the pressure was there. In the previous two games we played 40 minutes of our worst rugby, followed by 40 minutes of our best against Leinster, and then followed that with 40 minutes of brilliant rugby and 40 minutes of our worst rugby to lose in Belfast. That erratic form brings anxiousness and I think we did well to perform as we did with that recent run.

While the result was very positive, it was very pleasing to see lads returning from injury like Chris Farrell and Conor Oliver. After lengthy lay-offs, the work they got through was phenomenal and a credit to the work they've put in to return. A big talking point ahead of Sunday's game has been Donnacha Ryan possibly facing his former team for the first time.

Interestingly, I have never played a game against Donnacha at any level, but we've played scores of training games against each other, and hundreds of training sessions. Racing had an unbelievable win last weekend when they beat Clermont by 50 points in Paris, which is an astonishing result.

That's the task that's ahead of us: it's going to be one of the hardest matches that we've faced in recent times in Europe. They are a quality side and you never have a clue who they'll pick, such is the talent at their disposal. They have a few guys in the pack that play every week and they rotate around them.

Donnacha played very well for them in an 80-minute display against Clermont, so we'll see if he is involved on Sunday. Whether he is named in the team today, whether he's on the bench or not involved at all, he will still have a real impact on this game.

It just adds another dimension and bit of spice to the game.

Personally, I'm sure coming up against my former housemate and team-mate will be strange. Donnacha is a very, very tough man and very smart. He'll know how we run our lineout, but we'll know how he operates too. It makes our life more difficult having to play someone of the calibre of Donnacha.

But that's what Europe is. If you want to progress in Europe you have got to beat the best and at the moment Racing are one of the best teams in France and Europe.

It's going to be a tough task to go over there to their new, glittery stadium, which adds another dimension to it. It looks phenomenal and I'm sure we'll get a good look at it tomorrow during the captain's run.

All said, it has been a very exciting week so far, there has been a big buzz around the place. We have two games left in Europe and if we win both of them you'd have to think we'll be in good shape to claim a home quarter-final.

The first aim is to get into the last eight; topping of the group would be ideal and we need to win this weekend to do that. Like every game in Europe, it's a must-win.

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