Munster Rugby's Billy Holland: 'Most difficult part is now passed'

Colm Kinsella, Rugby Correspondent

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Colm Kinsella, Rugby Correspondent

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ckinsella@limerickleader.ie

Munster Rugby's Billy Holland: 'Most difficult part is now passed'

Munster's Billy Holland

MUNSTER second row Billy Holland has insisted that the arrival of new head coach Johann van Graan half way through their season would not cause any difficulties for the squad.

Van Grann joined up with Munster this week in the wake of South Africa’s Test match victory over France in Paris on Saturday night.

As the former Springbok’ assistant coach settles in to life at Munster, assistant coaches Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones, as well as performance analyst George Murray, will take charge of the side for Sunday’s Guinness PRO14 fixture away to Zebre in Parma.

Holland insisted at a Munster press briefing in UL this week that the change of coaching ticket mid-season was regarded as ‘an opportunity’ from the players point of view.

Munster’s former Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus and assistant coach Jacques Nienaber started working in their new roles with the South African Rugby Union this week.

Billy Holland said: “We sat down at the start of the year as a senior player group and decided that you could look at it (change of coaching set-up) as an opportunity or have a load of excuses if things went wrong. 

”We looked at it as the former and Fla (Jerry Flannery) and Felix (Jones) were instrumental in it, showing that we could drain as much knowledge from Rassie and Jacques as you could in their remaining couple of months. 

”And then you’re getting a new coach in with a new point of view and you’re going to get a lot of knowledge out of him as well.  So we saw it as an opportunity. 

”If there was ever going to be any trouble, I think it would have been from the point when Rassie decided to go to when he left when guys were kinda throwing the toys out of the pram and thinking he’s not picking me because he doesn’t like me as a person, that it’s a personal thing, that if we lost a game, they’d kinda go, ‘sure, his mind is already in  South Africa’.  There was absolutely none of that.”

Munster may have lost three of their opening eight Guinness PRO14 fixtures this season to sit a remote second behind Glasgow in Conference A of the new-look Guinness Pro14 but Holland believes the side is better than last season.

“Johann (van Graan) isn’t coming in to change anything at the start.  Even this week, Felix and Fla are running things and Johann is just observing. 

”There will be no difficulties.   The most difficult part has passed in my opinion. I hope we are sitting here in two months time and saying the same thing. 

”We know what we’re trying to do, what we’ve been doing so far has been working even if we have slipped up a few  times, but I think we have progressed from last year, that we are a better team than last year and Johann is going to come in and look at what we are doing over the next month or so, tweak a few things.

”If you compare it to what happened last year when we changed aspects of our game midway through the season like the break down, we’re not going to do that.

Holland said he had enjoyed the team’s break from Guinness PRO14 action as a result of his hectic playing schedule during the opening months of the season.

Holland said: “I enjoyed our recent break massively.  When you go away on the break, you still have training to do, it’s just the mental thing that you’re not here (at UL), it’s something different you’re doing like running or doing weights up in Con. 

”I went over and visited Donnacha Ryan (in Paris) and a few other friends in different places, so it was really enjoyable to get away and freshen up.

“I had played ten matches in a row.  I started from the Worcester game through to the Dragons with no week-end off, ten games over ten weeks.  It’s a great place for me to be in because I love it although by the end of it you’re absolutely exhausted.”

Holland said Donnacha Ryan was looking forward to hosting his former Munster team mates in their crucial Champions Cup pool fixture in January.

”Donnacha (Ryan) is due back in the next month or so. He has settled in well, he’s learning his French and enjoying himself. It’s something different. 

“He’s looking forward to hosting Munster in the new year.  I think they all are.  They’re moving into their new stadium in December and they’re very excited about that.”

Holland is the oldest member of the Munster squad at present at 32, but pointed out that the age of the oldest player was coming down.

 “I am probably the youngest-oldest guys who has been around for the past couple of years. Donnacha Ryan last year was the oldest at 33. At the start of the season we had three guys in their 30s in the squad - that’s how young a squad we have and it’s brilliant.”