No Munster player has made the trek up to Galway as often as Billy Holland and the 34-year-old has been through the mill enough to know that there will be very little Christmas cheer awaiting them at the Sportsground this time round either.
But it’s a fixture Holland has always revelled in since going there in his debut season back in 2007 and with Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux celebrating an Irish recall this week, he knows things will be cranked up further at a venue that remains a throwback to another era.
“There’s not too many places where you actually walk through the crowd to get out on to the pitch. It’s good but it can be intimidating and if you’re not expecting it, it’s a very challenging place to go.
“One day there was no wind and it was sunny and there’s been many a day where the rain was horizontal. It’s such a tough place to play, you’re playing into the weather, Connacht always play well at home and they have this incredible never say die attitude that has been displayed over the last couple of weeks and the crowd are brilliant.”
Holland marked his 100th appearance for Munster in this fixture in 2015 and earlier this year chalked up his 200th against Connacht, so there have been plenty of milestones in the clash with the neighbours.
Holland is looking forward to the clash even if he knows Dillane and Roux will be on a high this week after working their way into Andy Farrell’s first Irish squad.
“Those two lads have had very good seasons, they both didn’t play a whole lot early on but in the last month or two they’ve really played well.
As a combination they kind of complement each other nicely as a four and five so we will have our work cut out there just in the lineout, the scrum, the maul, the breakdown, the physicality the close contact exchanges where they’re both good, two powerful players so we have our work cut out.
“Connacht have been going well and this is big match. There’s just a point between us on the table so it’s a huge points swing either way.
"One team will pull away a little bit, one team will stay where they are so it’s got massive ramifications to the table as it is at the moment,” added Holland.
Holland admits the loss through injury of Tadhg Beirne is going to be huge as Munster bid for a knockout place in the Heineken Champions Cup and push for glory in the PRO14. It remains to be seen how much of the season Beirne will miss with a broken ankle suffered in the 15-6 defeat away to Saracens last weekend but Holland is in no doubt about the magnitude of the loss.
“It’s a massive blow to the squad, he’s one of the few players who can play 4,5,6,7 and probably 8 as well.”
Holland, now with 221 Munster games under his belt, has seen plenty of comings and goings in that time and knows that reintegrating players in a World Cup year is difficult, but feels Munster have handled the task well this time round.
“It was challenging. It was challenging for the coaches. It was challenging for the players who had been there for the 17 weeks and we had changed a huge amount. Our terminology had changed, Stephen (Larkham), Johann (van Graan) and Graham (Rowntree) coming in changing one or two phrases, the lads themselves coming in and in the space of one week having to get it all on board, they did exceptionally well to get it all on board.
“It is a process, it is going to take a while before we are all up to where we want to get to. It was an intense couple of weeks. The leaders who have been in from the get go have a huge responsibility, the likes of myself, Tyler (Bleyendaal), JJ (Hanrahan) to try to get that across to the guys without cluttering them with unnecessary detail, trying to get the big things right, it’s part of the game it’s a challenge.
“Those guys won’t be around for the next week or two so it’s different guys coming in, that’s the way rugby is now.”