Munster boosted by Johnny Holland’s calm, controlling game
Inspired move by outhalf helped to spur province into action against Edinburgh
Munster’s Johnny Holland kicks a penalty against Edinburgh: “I was happy with my performance and it does give you the impetus to drive on.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
ray of light over the last month has been Johnny Holland. The late developing 24-year-old outhalf had only made one start for Munster until the game against Zebre at the end of March, but has now started their last four – and done so with some aplomb.
Against Edinburgh last Friday night, Holland was a controlled, calming presence, coming up with big plays at key moments, such as the chip-and-gather and then carry in the final ten minutes that helped kick-start Munster back into life.
A bright, easy-going and seemingly quite confident young player, Holland said: “It wasn’t that dramatic. I was just thinking something had to happen and I felt I hadn’t got on the ball in a while and I wasn’t looking to pull a rabbit out of the hat before I got that ball. I just gathered it but if I passed it on, I was putting somebody else under pressure so it just happened. Some of the times you just think of these things.”
Back in chargeAfter letting slip a draw against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium and taking a beating away to Connacht, Munster are back in charge of their own destiny.
“Axel [Anthony Foley] spoke about it during the week, about it being out of our control and our main aim was to get it back in our control because that’s where you want to be so it’s great to be back there [in the top six] that was our aim but we’re not going to take the foot off the gas.”
Qualifying for the European Champions Cup is, as Holland put it: “Absolutely non-negotiable. Everybody speaks about it for a reason so that’s up to us to go and get it and the win over Edinburgh was the first step to doing it but we have one more to go though.”
One of triplets, with a twin brother and sister, Holland began playing rugby in the Douglas mini-rugby under-7s. Having attended Coláiste Chríost Rí, he came through the clubs (UCC and Cork Con) and Munster Youths system.
He was the Ulster Bank Young Player of the Year for Division 1A in the 2012-13 season. He made his senior debut for Munster the following season as a replacement against Cardiff and was promoted from an academy to development contract in the 2014-15 season. He progressed to his first two-year contract from the start of this season.
He describes being given the starting number ‘10’ jersey against Leinster as a “game changer” for him.
“It showed a bit of confidence behind me for a player only coming into the squad. I was massively nervous for it obviously as you would be, I didn’t expect it to go so well for me personally but we lost and I’d trade that in a heartbeat for the win but I was happy with my performance and it does give you the impetus to drive on,” he says.
Holland has been on the Munster A side on and off for the past four seasons but he tore a hamstring in November 2014 and subsequent injury setbacks kept him out of action until the end of December.
That only makes his polished performances over the last month or so all the more impressive.