There is little doubt that Billy Holland’s retirement from professional rugby at the end of the season, which the veteran lock announced on Monday will leave a vacuum at Munster. Nor is there any danger that those he is set to leave behind do not appreciate the qualities that will depart the dressing room with the 35-year-old.
Holland, who became Munster’s second most-capped player in his 241st appearance last weekend off the bench in the Guinness PRO14 win at Cardiff Blues, made his announcement by speaking of his gratitude at being able to walk away from his professional career, 14 years after his senior debut, on his own terms.
“I have always been determined to finish my career whilst still playing well and adding value to the jersey each time I get to put it on,” Holland said.
“To be in a position to call time on such a fantastic experience, on my own terms, is one I am extremely grateful for. I believe the time is right for me, my family and for Munster Rugby to hang up my boots.
“I don’t want to reflect too much on the incredible journey just yet, as right now my focus is on performing to the best of my ability every time I’m handed that cherished red shirt. I am excited to help Munster continue to move forward and achieve our potential for the rest of the season.”
There will not be enough games left in this Covid-shortened season for Holland to surpass fellow Cork-born second row Donncha O’Callaghan’s record of 263 appearances for the province, nor is there likely to be an opportunity for Munster’s Red Army to acknowledge their appreciation in person at any of the remaining games of his career. Yet there is the possibility that Holland could bow out with some well-deserved silverware.
A win at home to Connacht on Friday night will secure Munster’s position as PRO14 Conference B winners and book a first final appearance since 2017, while a guaranteed home tie in next week’s Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 draw offers the chance of more European glory.
You can be sure Holland will be front and centre on both fronts for as much as he is valued as a team-mate and an astute lineout and pack leader, his rugby intellect, attention to detail and sharing personality is treasured by those who coach him also.
“Don’t call him an intellectual,” forwards coach Graham Rowntree joked about Holland earlier this season. “He will never shut up if you call him that. He thinks he is.
No, his knowledge, he’d be a great coach. I am not sure what he wants to do after rugby, he would be a great coach.
“He is a giver is Billy. He is good with people, good talker, good understanding, pulls people along with him as a senior player, rather than having a go at people all the time.
“He has a nice warm manner about him and is a thorough professional as well. He’s a good player, his detail, his analysis, his diligence around line-out in particular. He loves a lineout.
“I can’t speak highly enough about the bloke.
“I have really enjoyed working with Billy. That’s enough nice things said about him.”
The Corkman made his Munster debut against Scarlets in September 2007 while still an academy player having progressed via Christian Brothers College, Cork Constitution and UCC. He had joined the academy in 2005 and would win Munster’s Academy Player of the Year award in 2008 before being promoted to the senior squad.
Always a valued member of the Munster squad by team-mates and coaches alike, Holland captained Munster A to British and Irish Cup success in 2012 and was twice nominated by his peers for Munster Rugby Men’s Player of the Year award in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
There was recognition, too, the following season when Holland earned an Ireland cap from Joe Schmidt, played against Canada at Aviva Stadium in October 2016 having also played for Emerging Ireland in 2014 and 15.
Munster are lucky to know what they’ve had before it goes, as head coach Johann van Graan acknowledged on Monday.
“I only just said it recently, Billy will go down as a Munster legend in the history of the club, and rightly so,” van Graan said.
“We all know the incredible character he is and how hard he works behind the scenes, always getting the job done. He has given his all to the jersey and all I can do is thank him for his service and commitment to Munster Rugby.”