Wednesday 19 December 2018

Tough test awaits in Cardiff on the back of big game for players

Player Diary: Billy Holland

Jack O’Donoghue being tackled by Zebre’s David Sisi and Eduardo Bello on his return to action last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Jack O’Donoghue being tackled by Zebre’s David Sisi and Eduardo Bello on his return to action last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Last Saturday was the first of four games in as many weekends, so to start it off with a bonus-point win at home to Zebre was a case of mission accomplished.

Despite the win, it was a frustrating game. It won't be one of the games that goes down in the history books as a Munster classic, but however we got there, in the end we came away with all five points.

Not having played a game for a couple of weeks was always going to mean a slightly fractured performance, but it was also a very changed team to the one that's been playing in Europe. A lot of the lads are away with Ireland as usual at this time of the season, which meant it was a special occasion for plenty of other lads who are so keen to show their hand.

Two guys got their first caps last weekend in Gerbrandt Grobler and John Poland - I was delighted for them both. Another two guys - Dave O'Callaghan and Dan Goggin - came back from long-term injury and played really well. And then you have fellas like Brian Scott who made his first start - he also got his first try too - and Jeremy Loughman, who won his second cap.


Then a load of guys were playing their first game in a few months. Look at Jack O'Donoghue, who you'd have said played a lot of rugby recently, but his last start was against Connacht during Christmas - the same for Duncan Williams. Robin Copeland hadn't started in eight weeks, so there was a lot of lads who were keen for game-time.

As a result, it was no surprise that we started slowly. We'd go a few phases, have a knock-on, or misfire at the breakdown. We were a little bit off on everything at the start. To be fair to Zebre, they were very physical and they got the better of us in the first 20 minutes.

But once we got our first try we settled into it and quickly got a second. The same thing happened in the second half: we were slow for ten minutes and Zebre scored, but then we hit back again and got a couple of quick tries to close out the win. All said, it was a decent outing.

Unfortunately, the early part of this week was lighter than usual for me because I had a small issue with my foot. I came down on it a bit awkwardly in a first-half lineout, and while it felt okay for the rest of the game and in the aftermath, when I woke up on Sunday morning I knew I was in a bit of trouble.

After the game we all have to report any injuries to the medics, but due to the adrenaline from playing I didn't feel too bad at all. The last thing the coaches want to see on a Monday morning is that they have an unexpected injury to deal with. It messes up their numbers for training and everything, so with that in mind I let them know on Sunday and I was lined up for treatment when I came back in. I'll be fine for the Cardiff game though.

That will be an interesting test for us too. They are a very smart team in terms of how they exit and their kicking strategies. They play very conservatively in their own half, which is the polar opposite of Zebre, who don't kick too much and can run from everywhere. Ourselves, Leinster and Cardiff are statistically the three biggest kicking teams in the Guinness PRO14, which may surprise people.

Cardiff score a lot of tries from broken field and from turnover ball. The artificial surface at Arms Park lends itself to that type of a game. They're a very astute team and I think they've come on leaps and bounds from Round 5 when we played against them. It is going to be a tough game on all fronts.

They are fourth in our conference and they need to start accumulating points against the top three to get back in the play-off fight. After this weekend there are only six games left in the regular season, and that lays a lot of value on these matches. When you get into the business end of the season points are hard to come by.

As well as our own game, we've all been keeping a good eye on Ireland, and I've been very impressed with them. I don't think they played particularly well over in France, they wouldn't have been too happy with certain aspects of their performance, but the way they ground out the win was impressive. 

Against Italy they were phenomenal though. The pace and variety to their attacking game was very impressive. They get criticised at times for not being too adventurous in attack and being boring, but some of the tries and skill shown last weekend was as good as you'll see.

I was delighted to see Mur and Earlsie and the boys at the centre of that result. I think they are going really well and are in a good place.

They'll enjoy their weekend off, but there's no rest for us and we'll be pushed all the way in Cardiff.

Irish Independent

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