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Pro14

Munster legend to retire at end of the current season

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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Billy Holland has announced today that he will retire from professional rugby at the end of the season.

The 35-year-old will call it a day on a marvellous career spanning 14 seasons that saw him become Munster’s second most capped player when coming on for his 241st appearance against Cardiff Blues in the Guinness PRO14 on Friday night.

Confirming the news, Holland said, “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.

“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.”

A player who has come up through the provincial pathway, playing with clubs Cork Constitution and UCC, and school Christian Brothers College, Billy joined the Munster Rugby Academy in 2005 and made his competitive debut against Scarlets in September 2007.

He went on to win Academy Player of the Year in 2008 for his breakthrough season and was promoted to the senior squad.

Holland played in the province’s narrow defeat to New Zealand in Thomond Park in November 2008, while in October 2010 he played a central role in the defeat of the touring Australia side.

In representing the next generation of players coming through the province he captained the Munster ‘A’ side to British and Irish Cup success in Musgrave Park in 2012.

Known for his leadership qualities on and off the field, Billy’s peers twice nominated him for Munster Rugby Men’s Player of the Year off the back of his performances during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons.

On the international front he secured an Ireland cap playing against Canada at the Aviva Stadium in October 2016, while he enjoyed Nations Cup and Tblisi Cup success with Emerging Ireland in 2014 and 2015.

Commenting on Billy’s announcement, Head Coach Johann van Graan said, “I only just said it recently, Billy will go down as a Munster legend in the history of the club, and rightly so.

“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.

“We won’t dwell on it too much now, as ever the professional, Billy still has a job to do, helping to lead an ambitious group at this time.”

Pro14

Munster confirm Zebo signing

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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to announce that Simon Zebo has signed a one-year contract to return to play with the province for the 2021/22 season.

This co-funded contract will see Munster’s all-time record try-scorer return from Racing 92 and line out for his home club where he made 144 appearances and scored 60 tries between 2010 and 2018.

In his third season with the Top 14 side, the 31-year-old has played 55 times and scored 21 tries to date.

Head Coach Johann van Graan said, “The opportunity to bring Simon back to Munster came about in early April following a final review of our squad’s budgetary position for season-end and with assistance from the IRFU to support what we believe is a really good deal for Munster and Irish Rugby.

“Simon’s desire to return to Ireland and play with his home club is illustrated by his willingness to sign at a level below his market value elsewhere. This has made bringing the province’s all-time leading try-scorer back home, possible.”

Simon Zebo said, “I am thrilled and honoured to be coming back home to play for Munster. My family and I have been so lucky to have enjoyed three incredible years with Racing 92 in Paris and I cannot thank the team there enough, I really have made friends for life and take with me some brilliant memories.

“However, as everyone knows, Munster holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve always said that I wanted to play for them and potentially Ireland again, so when this opportunity arose the lure of being close to home, family and friends and Munster fans, it outweighed all other options. I cannot wait to get back to the HPC with the team and hopefully a packed Thomond Park.”

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Pro14

Ulster Rugby agree to release Coetzee early

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Marcell Coetzee has played his last game for Ulster Rugby.

With back-row, Marcell Coetzee, currently side-lined with a hamstring injury, Ulster Rugby has agreed terms which will see the player released from the club at the end of this month, ahead of his planned departure at the conclusion of the 2020/21 season.

Given the need for several weeks of rehabilitation following the injury sustained by Coetzee in last month’s Guinness PRO14 fixture against Leinster, Ulster Rugby and the player have reached a mutual agreement to part ways on Friday 30 April.

Head of Rugby Operations and Recruitment, Bryn Cunningham, said: “We have come to an agreement that will allow Marcell the time and space required to continue his rehab.

“I’d like to thank Marcell for his contribution to the province over the past five years and we wish him and wife, Chanelle the very best for their upcoming return home to South Africa.”

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Pro14

Lowry retained at 10 for Ulster v Zebre

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Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Ulster coaching team has named the match-day squad to host Zebre in tomorrow night’s final Guinness PRO14 regular season game (Kingspan Stadium, 8.15pm).

21-year-old, Cormac Izuchukwu will make his first start for the Ulster men as he is named in the second row alongside Kieran Treadwell. Marty Moore comes back into the starting front row at tighthead, with Eric O’Sullivan and John Andrew retaining their starting berths at loosehead and hooker. Jordi Murphy will captain the side at openside flanker, with Sean Reidy and David McCann being retained at blindside and Number Eight.

A youthful back line sees Ethan McIlroy coming into the  back three at full-back, with Rob Lyttle on the left wing and Robert Baloucoune returning on the right. Stewart Moore and James Hume will make up the midfield pairing, while John Cooney and Michael Lowry are named at half-back.

Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor and Matty Rea are the forward reinforcements, with David Shanahan, Ian Madigan and Ben Moxham providing the back line options on the bench.

Ulster team to play Zebre Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Round 16, Friday 19 March at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports / eir Sport):

(15-9) Ethan McIlroy, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle, Michael Lowry, John Cooney;

(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew, Marty Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordy Murphy (Capt.), David McCann.

Replacements: Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Matty Rea, David Shanahan, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham.

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