Billy Holland set to make it 200 not out for Munster
Ireland secondrow tossed a coin 50 times before deciding to stay with the province
Billy Holland will make his 200th Munster appearance against Connacht. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
Billy Holland will chalk up his 200th appearance for Munster this weekend in Galway but it took the toss of a coin – or several tosses as it turned out – for him to remain with his native province a few years ago.
The queue for places in the Munster secondrow just never looked like getting shorter . . . Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll and Donnacha Ryan were all ahead of him.
And when he tried his luck in the backrow he found it impossible to shift the likes of David Wallace, Denis Leamy, Alan Quinlan and James Coughlan, among others, so seven or eight years ago he had had enough and started to consider a move.
An offer came in from the UK and Holland was in two minds whether to uproot and try make the breakthrough elsewhere.
“I was very close to going to a club in the UK, went over to the grounds and everything I said the night before I had to decide I’d toss a coin and it landed on the side to go to the club in the UK so I tossed it another 49 times!
“I wouldn’t be much of a gambler I must say but I think it ended up 26-24 to stay at Munster. There were a lot of other considerations. My family were all in Cork and Ireland and my now wife was in Ireland so you know it wasn’t just the rugby there was more to it.
“I’d be quite stubborn and determined as well. I felt like I hadn’t done what I could do with Munster and I wasn’t prepared to leave until I had achieved some of my goals. I had achieved one which was to play for Munster but nothing else.”
He was 22 when he made his debut against Llanelli in his native Cork, was 25 when he played in the Champions Cup for the first time and was 31 two seasons ago when he followed in the footsteps of his father Jerry and became an Irish international.
He only really started to stack up the Munster appearances when Anthony Foley took charge and says he is often bemused when he hears young players these days bemoaning their lack of game-time.
“I got a lash of games a few years ago and it’s like all the young fellas here who are 19 and they have one or two caps when they are 20 and are getting annoyed. I didn’t get my first cap until I was 22 so I’ve gotten all these caps in just over 10 years so it’s certainly been back-ended by patience, stubbornness determination. But I’ve worked hard for every single one of them,” said Holland, who will be 34 in March and who is contracted to the summer of 2020.
These are special times for Holland. He and his wife Lanlih had their first baby Emmeline in November and now he is about to join the small list of Munster players to chalk up 200 appearances.
He made his 100th appearance at the Sportsground when they coughed up a big lead and lost, so he doesn’t want a repeat of that against Connacht in Galway on Saturday.
But he knows that this is a Connacht team that is in a good run of form and that they will need to be on their game if they are to make it two wins from three in the festive derbies.
“They are a completely different team to last year, they are playing some really good rugby, they seem like a very difficult team to break down and they play a good ball in hand game.
“They’ve moved away from where they would be running the ball from their own try line and they’ve developed better exits but they are in a real rich vein of form at the moment, they probably should have beaten Leinster a few weeks ago.
“We’ve lost quite a few games up there recently so it’s good that they will have a full house up there. It’s going to be a tough place to go. In terms of the Conference there are just three points between us so whoever gets the four points will be very happy.”