Player Diary: Billy Holland
After three years waiting to get ourselves back in the knockout stages of a European competition, it's nice to be one day away from the arrival of Toulouse to Thomond Park.
It's hard to know what to expect from them, we'll all be studying today's team announcement with interest, because they have such a big squad with so much talent that it's impossible to predict who we'll be taking on. One thing for sure, whoever is in their 23 will be seriously talented rugby players, and with so much to play for, it'll be a game to remember for all of us.
Ahead of such a big game it's vital to nail your preparation so getting over the long trip to Italy to play Zebre last Saturday was a big thing for us. The travel over and back is a killer. We left Cork on 10am on Friday, flew Dublin to Milan and after a two-hour bus journey, we finally got in to our hotel in Parma at 10.30 that night.
And after the game it was even harder. The game was over at about a quarter to five and we had to be on the bus 45 minutes later, to get back to the airport in Milan on time. It was a quick hop back to Dublin, and we got back to Cork at God knows what hour when you take in the clocks changing. Add in the fact that we played in temperatures over 20°C it was a tough couple of days all said.
It was important to relax a good bit on Sunday and take it handy, so I sat out in the sunshine and chilled out for the day. I must have needed it, because after the game the lads were slagging me it was the first time ever I looked more tired than Peter O'Mahony. When you hear a line like that it's definitely time to sit down for a few hours.
Like every game, video analysis is a big part of your preparations, but who exactly do you study? For example, we had barely seen Patricio Albacete all season for them, but he has played quite a bit in recent weeks. Then they have fellas like Richie Gray, Joe Tekori, Yoann Maestri, Talalei Gray, Thierry Dusautoir and Yacouba Camara, all of whom are excellent lineout operators. When you are doing your prep for a day like this the majority of it has to be around focusing on your own tactics, and hoping that you're ready for what they throw at you.
We have our work cut out for us up front, but those are the challenges you face in the knockout stages. No complaints though: these are the tests we want and have been waiting for three years. We'll relish it.
In recent years, including this season, we've seen Toulouse against Connacht and they've had a bit of success against them. The way Connacht have played them has been impressive, but we are not going to try and play like them. We'll stick to the game-plan that has worked well for us all year. It has gotten us this far and we are backing it to work again for us. Of course there will be variations there for Toulouse - like we do for every opponent - but we're comfortable and confident in what we do.
Due to injuries to Jean Kleyn and Dave Foley, Jean Deysel has been brought in on a short-term deal and he has slotted straight in too. Jean is a lovely fella, and I'm glad to say he's older than me too! He has a lot to learn but he's learning it quickly, fair play to him.
We have a great squad here and I have absolute faith in all of our second-rows, but when playing knockout rugby sometimes you need a bit more experience. Rassie feels we needed a bit of strength and depth in that back five area due to all our injuries. To be able to call on someone like him with his experience is great.
It's almost three years to the day since we last played Toulouse, but the day before that game I was involved in one of the worst games ever with a Munster jersey on my back. We had a horrific performance up in Donnybrook as Leinster 'A' did a job on us in the B&I Cup quarter-final.
I have vivid memories of being at Thomond Park the following day - I was the 24th man. I remember the match and how well the lads played. They shocked Toulouse that day, but there will be no shock this time. They have so many of the same players and they'll know what to expect. We were fantastic that day and like Leinster 'A' we racked up 47 points.
Three years on I still remember that 'A' game though. Looking at the line-up, it is remarkable to see how many of us will be involved this weekend. Ronan O'Mahony was full-back, Andrew Conway was on the wing, Rory Scannell was 10 and Niall Scannell was hooker, I played second-row and Jack O'Donoghue came on as a sub. Despite that result, it just goes to show what a brilliant stepping stone the B&I Cup is for players.
Tonight I'm sure there is another handful of lads that will be involved in the first team in three years' time. From the Munster 'A' team that won it in 2012, there is a huge amount of lads still involved too: Duncan Williams, Dave Kilcoyne. Stephen Archer, Dave O'Callaghan, myself and John Ryan hope to be busy tomorrow, while Paddy Butler and JJ Hanrahan played that game too. It is a proven pathway into the Munster team.
This week would have been tough for the 'A' team too as they get their game together for Ealing Trailfinders. They have been running Toulouse plays in training, but they also have to get themselves ready. I've been there plenty of times myself. At one stage I had run plays for every single team in the Guinness Pro12 and Europe. Then you have to go out with minimal preparation time and get your own game ready. But that's part of the challenge for the lads.
Hopefully, we'll both be celebrating big wins tomorrow evening.