Sunday 16 December 2018

'To be heading to CJ's hometown later in the week is something to really look forward to'

Billy Holland and CJ Stander, Munster
Billy Holland and CJ Stander, Munster
Munster's Billy Holland. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon in Cape Town

The Munster squad arrived into heat of 25 degrees Celsius in South Africa yesterday at the start of a two-match tour which will also double up as preparation for their Champions Cup semi-final showdown with Racing 92 in Bordeaux.

That European semi-final has been confirmed for Stade Chaban-Delmas on Sunday, April 22, with a 4.15pm (French time) kick-off, with Leinster hosting Scarlets in the other semi-final the previous day at the Aviva Stadium (3.30pm).

Munster have brought the entire 23-man squad who saw off Toulon 20-19 in such dramatic fashion at the weekend to South Africa, with Brian Scott, Dave O’Callaghan, Conor Oliver, Dan Goggin, Calvin Nash, Stephen Fitzgerald and Jack Stafford added to the travelling party.

Munster travelled to South Africa in two groups, both going via Dubai and arriving into warm sunshine in Cape Town yesterday.

The squad will get their first taste of playing in this weather when they train at the City Park rugby grounds in the city this morning.

It's coming to the end of summer in Cape Town and locals are hoping that rain will not be far away after suffering several months of drought which forced water rationing in Cape Town.

The Munster squad will depart by bus on Thursday for the five-hour trek to CJ Stander's hometown George where they will play the Southern Kings on Saturday evening.

They will travel back by road to Cape Town on Sunday and base themselves there until Thursday when they will depart to Bloemfontein to take on the Cheetahs on Friday week for a crunch Conference A clash.

But, of course, while Munster will bid to make their first ever trip to South Africa a winning one — they are the last of the Irish provinces to come out here this season — it will be hard to get away from the preparations for the Racing 92 clash, with an update on Simon Zebo's injury, along with others, expected today.

Munster's most experienced player Billy Holland said that the tour was an excellent opportunity to focus for the business end of the season.

"It is really exciting. This squad hasn't gone on many tours in the last few seasons for many reasons.

"You get to know fellas better on tour, you build even better relationships and you get to know lads better on tour.

"It's a very unique part of the world and to be heading to CJ's hometown later in the week is something to really look forward to.

"But we mustn't lose sight of the fact we have two important PRO14 matches, first against the Southern Kings and then against the Cheetahs.

"There is a lot of travel and there are difficulties logistically but the change of scene from Cork and Limerick for two weeks will be something different."

Some of the squad have played in South Africa before and for Holland this is his first time back in the country since featuring for the Irish U-19 side almost a decade and a half ago.

"I played in U-19 World Cup in Durban in 2004 and I haven’t been back to South Africa since so I'm looking forward to the next couple of weeks," added the 32-year old.

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