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Lineout steals and offloads - Billy Holland steps up as Munster's impact sub

The 33-year-old has been a consistent and reliable performer for Munster for years.

BILLY HOLLAND HASN’T always been everyone’s idea of an impact sub, but the Cork man proved to be exactly that over the past fortnight for Munster.

The experienced second row had a telling impact as a replacement in wins over Gloucester and Exeter, playing something of a starring role in helping Johann van Graan’s side into the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup.

LO1

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Now 33, Holland has made 202 appearances for his native province, debuting back in 2007.

Although many outside the province have questioned why Holland has been continually re-contracted in the years since, he has always been held in high esteem by his team-mates within Munster.

Holland could rarely be accused of being a flashy player – until the last two weeks, that is – but his lineout skills, composure, work rate on game day and on the training pitch, and calm presence have long been valued by Munster.

Rugby coaches cannot simply fill their squads with top-tier international players, limited as they are by budgets, which is why consistent and reliable players like Holland are so precious, particularly when they’re homegrown.

That Joe Schmidt capped Holland in 2016 against Canada was a deserved recognition of how the Cork Con man has improved with age and the Ireland boss mentioned him when discussing the tight selection calls he recently made in his Six Nations squad.

Holland, it’s worth remembering, was a first-choice player for Munster last season and started all eight of their Champions Cup games, leading the lineout. He held the same status back in the 2016/17 season too.

His excellence in that set-piece is constantly flagged by team-mates and is so even now, after Tadhg Beirne has taken Holland’s place as a first-choice lock and Munster’s lineout caller.

Billy Holland Holland remains an important part of the Munster squad. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Few could argue against Beirne and Jean Kleyn being the best second row pairing Munster have now, but Holland has reacted superbly to what must have been the tough situation of losing his starting place to Beirne.

Holland remains an influence on Munster’s lineout, helping to guide Beirne as he learns the role and deals with the heavy-duty analysis demands that go with being good at it.

Holland has brought energy when tasked with coming off the bench, accepting a new role for the good of the team. That’s essentially what he has done for his entire career.

His lineout steal late on against Exeter on Saturday, his very first action after replacing Beirne, was a particularly important contribution.

Munster are a team that have always prided themselves on making a contest of every area of the game and, with Exeter chasing what might have been a winning score with their superb close-range maul, the southern province were always going to compete in the air.

To get two jumping pods up was brave from Munster and it was Holland who picked the ball off, benefitting from a superb lift by CJ Stander and Jeremy Loughman. 

It’s worth remembering that Holland had a lineout steal the week before against Gloucester too, again highlighting his quality in that area.

Try

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In attack, Holland brought some nice touches in Gloucester, with his clever offload allowing Keith Earls to score in the left corner.

That flash of skill was preceded by typically strong work rate from Holland to be in that position at all. Later in the game, he unfussily delivered a pass to Joey Carbery before the out-half rolled his delicious grubber kick in behind for Andrew Conway to score.

Having replaced the injured Peter O’Mahony early in the second half, Holland also demonstrated his work rate in the remarkable 35-phase passage that ended with Ollie Thorley scoring for Gloucester.

Holland had a team-leading 12 involvements in tackles during that passage, bouncing off the ground with infectious energy and communicating clearly.

As many of his team-mates headed away to Portugal yesterday with Ireland, it’s likely that Holland’s importance to Munster increased even more, with van Graan’s side focusing in on a Pro14 trip to Dragons this weekend.

As ever, Holland’s influence both on and off the pitch will be a crucial factor in the coming weeks, even if he’s not picking off lineouts and teeing up tries.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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