Wednesday 21 August 2019

The Big Interview: Billy Holland - Lock back in action and raring to go after injury nightmare

Five-month stint on sidelines has ignited Cork second-row's hunger for the game

Billy Holland: ‘I am just happy to be back’
Billy Holland: ‘I am just happy to be back’

Daragh Small

Declan Kidney once told Munster lock Billy Holland there were four things that could happen in a rugby match: you could win, draw, lose or get beaten.

Holland says his team lost last season's Pro12 final to Glasgow, and it has been one of the most difficult defeats he has suffered in his career.

It was the Cork native's 100th Pro12 appearance, and it came on the back of a tough season for the province, but from a personal perspective he thrived.

The 30-year-old made himself a first-team regular through hard work and determination, and on the back of that impressive form, the powerful forward was asked to join up with the Emerging Ireland squad for the Tbilisi Cup in Georgia.

Holland got to captain Ireland in their final game, but it was in that final when disaster struck and he broke his ankle. Now in 2015-'16 the man who has 110 Munster caps needs to start again and force his way back into the reckoning.

Five months on from the first major injury of his career, he lined out for Munster 'A' in London - they lost to London Scottish by just two points in the B&I Cup last Friday.

Later that evening his girlfriend rang his phone to fill him in on the horrifying events that unfolded in Paris.

Now Munster's trip to the French capital for a clash with Stade Francais has been postponed too. He says the show must go on, the terrorists cannot win, but knows that Munster will face an even tougher task against an emotionally-motivated team whenever the game is rescheduled.

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"It's upsetting, and it is pretty frightening what happened over there. My girlfriend rang me after my game. I was obviously in a bad mood, as I am if you lose a game. She told me about it, and instantly it put things into perspective," he says.

"We play a game, it is not life or death. People might make it out to be, but it's not. It is something we play to entertain people, effectively. It will be very emotional when we go over."

Munster had a comprehensive bonus-point 32-7 win over Treviso in their opening Champions Cup tie at Thomond Park last Saturday, and they top Pool 4 ahead of Leicester.

Holland would have loved to have been involved, but he knew the B&I Cup was the realistic route back. It has been a long and arduous journey full of setbacks, but the experience of being out on the field again made it all worthwhile.


It was seven minutes into the clash against Georgia, when Holland landed awkwardly from a lineout. Straight away he knew something was wrong, but the prognosis changed from three months to five, and that was more difficult to take.

"There was a broken bone, ligament and cartilage damage. When you get dropped onto another guy's foot from a full lineout lift, and your foot turns inwards with all your body weight on it, you are going to do serious damage," says Holland.

"The bone healed itself, but the ligaments, and cartilage caused issues. Thankfully, I am over that now. We have a very good medical team, Colm Coakley, who subsequently left, he was great. And Keith Thornhill has come down and done a great job too.

"It is hard going for the physios and the medical staff as well. If someone gets injured over the weekend and then you are in on the Monday morning, sometimes they are as downbeat as the players. They feel for the guys, they know how much work has to go into it. You are certainly not on your own anyway, they are feeling bad with you.

"But when something like that happens, it is also a good opportunity to work on other parts of your game. I got a lot of upper-body strength work in. If you have a few shoulder issues, you can rectify them. Being out of the game a little bit longer, it certainly gets your mental appetite back.

"I played 30 minutes for Cork Con a few weeks ago. I was nervous going into the game, it was exciting, and I played pretty poorly. But when you are injured you have to look at the up side and take all of the positives out of it - I am just happy to be back."

And he is coming into a Munster side who have a few scores to settle. The Champions Cup defeat to Clermont at home proved their undoing last season. And the Pro12 final loss to Glasgow was another one etched in Holland's memory.

The Munster senior side have not won a single piece of silverware since they lifted the Pro12 trophy in 2011. That needs to change, and Holland is well aware that his side have not performed in recent seasons. "Every year Europe is a massive target for us. We let ourselves down last year against Clermont. If you don't win your European games at home you are not going to progress," adds the Cork man.

"You go out saying you want to win all of the competitions you enter.

"But you have to take it one step at a time; last Saturday was a good performance from the lads though.

"In the Pro12 our goal is to get to the final again this year, and to go one step better and win it in the end.

"It is when you lose a match by playing as poorly as we did in the final last season, that is what is so hard to take.

"Sometimes you come out against better teams and you get beaten. Saracens away last year, we were just beaten, Saracens were too good. But in the Pro12 final we under-performed against Glasgow, and that made it very hard to take."

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