While Billy Holland has some significant career decisions ahead of him, the Munster veteran appreciates the situation rugby finds itself in the midst of a pandemic means the current financial uncertainty is affecting professionals of all ages.
He’s 35 now and this Saturday’s trip to Italy to play Benetton is set to be the second row’s 239th appearance for his province but his future is less certain beyond the end of his current contract, which expires this summer.
The IRFU has only begun negotiations on new deals since the turn of the year having chosen to wait for more clarity on the direction of travel of this public health emergency and the fact that severe restrictions are still in place means the prospect of allowing supporters back into stadia seems as remote as it ever did, with the governing body’s finances impacted accordingly.
For Holland, age gives him the benefit of experience and to a certain degree, his fate is in his own hands. Yet the future for Ireland’s professional rugby-playing community is in a worrying state of limbo.
“I haven’t made a decision yet,” Holland said of his own playing future. “I suppose we’ve a break after this match and I’m constantly thinking about it. ‘What do I want to do?’ I’m not getting any younger but I’m enjoying my rugby, I’m playing well, I want to be involved in the big games on the big days and when that’s no longer happening I’ll have to think long and hard about it.
“But certainly over the next month or so I’ll be sitting down and speaking to the bosses here and speaking with my family at home and seeing what’s best for me and what’s best for Munster. But yeah there’s a lot of crazy contract stuff at the moment.
It’s a tough time for guys. There’s guys who don’t know what their futures hold in a couple of months’ time so it is a difficult time for a lot of players. They’re under a lot of stress and strain, particularly for younger guys.
“I’m 35, it’s a little bit different, but for young guys with their whole career ahead of them and there’s so much uncertainty and not many places to go to, it’s a very difficult place to be.”
Maybe credit is due to Rugby Players Ireland’s ongoing Tackle Your Feelings campaign to provide support for their member’s mental health issues and encourage an open dialogue in dressing rooms that was once considered taboo but Holland reports that contract uncertainty is being discussed at Munster.
“We do talk about it and we are very open about it in terms of the stresses and strains. There’s guys playing at the weekend and they’ve been told ‘we don’t know if there’s something there for you’. That’s a difficult place to be.
“You can just be there to listen to fellas and help them but my situation is so different. I’m 35, my career certainly isn’t behind me but I’m at the far end of my career, so there’s no point in me saying to a 25-year-old, ‘ah, you’ll be grand’, because that may not be true.
“But I know that Munster want to keep the squad we have but financially it might be a different situation. It’s just tough on guys, it really is.”
Munster forwards coach Graham Rowntree credited both the players for their professionalism to stay on task despite the uncertainty and the work of head coach Johann van Graan to ease any anxiety.
“I remember those times as a player. You’ve got to put everything in context, not let things get on top of you but Johann’s great at that. Johann’s in constant dialogue with these guys, a very open and warm character that he is and he’s vital in this.
“I fully back what he’s doing but the guys, I’m not feeling any of that anxiety in terms of what they’re doing day to day.
“They certainly seem to be keeping control of it nicely at the moment... they’re lucky, they’ve got a great man they can speak to at any moment, any minute of the day about it in Johann.”