MUNSTER second row Billy Holland says the return to full fitness of club captain Peter O’Mahony provides a ‘huge lift’ ahead of crucial Guinness Pro12 and Champions Cup fixtures.
O’Mahony, who had been sidelined for a year with a serious knee injury, made his long-awaited comeback when introduced as a replacement in the province’s facile Pro12 win over Zebre at Thomond Park on Saturday last.
O’Mahony reported no ill effects in the wake of his comeback and he is set to be involved in the Munster squad for Saturday’s marquee Pro12 clash with Leinster at the Aviva Stadium and the Champions Cup pool fixtures with Racing 92 and Glasgow Warriors on the following two weekends.
Billy Holland, who has captained Munster through the early weeks of the season, said: “It’s a huge lift. One of the biggest cheers of the evening was when Peter came off the bench which was brilliant to see him coming back.
”We have a huge amount of injuries as well at the moment so when you get somebody like Pete back - I think the last time he played for us was in a semi-final about a year and a half ago against the Ospreys – so he’s been a bit of a stranger around these parts.
”We know what he did in the World Cup and it’s not going to happen straight away for him, he’s not going to get up to that bit of form, but it’s huge having him back.
”He’s our club captain and has been for the last three or four years. We’ve missed him at times particularly last season so it was really important to get him back on the pitch.
”The next three weeks are massive, starting with Leinster up at the Aviva. We've had a few hard games at the start of the season, but no Grade 1, Tier 1 teams as we classify them, so this is our first massive game of the season."
Munster came agonisingly close to shocking Leinster in Dublin last April, with a lack of composure in the final stages of the game deep inside the Leinster ‘22 preventing the visitors from coming away with a win.
Holland is confident Munster have learned from that experience.
"I think last year at the end of the game, when you are on the pitch you have a feel for it, it is is very easy for people on the sidelines to criticise decisions. I think at the time, on the pitch, we felt like it was the right decision.
"Looking back in hindsight maybe it wasn't, but we go out to win games, you don't go out to come away with a draw. We felt we were good enough to win last year. We played some good rugby. We came away with one point. We were going for four, not two.
"Look, if if comes down to it again this season, we will see how we are feeling on the pitch at the time, but when you are on the pitch, you really do have a feel for it.
"At the time we backed CJ's (Stander) decision, it was the right call at the time, I felt."