Friday 9 December 2016

Lam's 'high expectations' have Connacht fans dreaming again

Published 18/10/2016 | 02:30

Pat Lam with the honorary degree he received from NUI Galway yesterday for his achievements as head coach of Connacht Photo: Andrew Downes
Pat Lam with the honorary degree he received from NUI Galway yesterday for his achievements as head coach of Connacht Photo: Andrew Downes

Outside the dressing-room walls, the Connacht supporters were beginning the party that would run late into the night but inside, attentions were already switching to the next task at hand.

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Last Monday, John Muldoon spoke to the squad and told them how they had to prove their worth in Europe, and although Saturday's stunning win over Toulouse will be remembered forever, they had merely done what they set out to do.

Connacht's Niyi Adeolokun in action during squad training Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Connacht's Niyi Adeolokun in action during squad training Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

The mindset in Connacht is different nowadays. Not content with snatching a late win that got their campaign off to a flying start before this weekend's trip to Parma, Pat Lam was left frustrated that his side didn't come away with the bonus point.

Target

"We're disappointed," Lam admitted. "We had a target of five points. We got three tries but there were a lot of (chances) out there where we could have gotten that extra one.

"We talked about it straight after the game. That's the sort of expectation we had in ourselves."

Those expectations have never been as high in the west, and Connacht's thrilling journey shows no sign of stopping yet.

The target this week will be the same bonus point win, and even though Connacht got out of jail when they played Zebre last month, they aren't likely to make the same mistakes again.

Trailing 22-10 to the Italians, the game was abandoned at half-time due to the adverse weather conditions. It was a let-off but Connacht have won three of their four games since.

Despite being behind 9-0 and 21-11 at different stages of Saturday's win over Toulouse, Connacht's mental resolve hauled them back into the game.

That they managed to keep the French side scoreless for the entire second half says a lot about the character of the players, but it also reflects well on whatever it was Lam said to them at the interval.

"We can draw on last season. We can draw on the season before." Lam insisted.

"There are so many years of experience that we have been through as a group. That's the beauty of it.

"As a group, we're growing together. Guys remember that they've been in this situation before. Rather than hoping, we know we can get out of it.

"I think the biggest highlight for me is how far we've come as a team from when we last played them (Toulouse) three years ago. We're a different team. We're a different organisation. As a whole community we are different.

"We know how to play these games. We have high expectations that we can win these games. We don't just hope about it."

Connacht got the job done but there were plenty of lessons handed out by Toulouse, particularly in the front-row.

Finlay Bealham struggled in the switch to loosehead, while Conor Carey - who up to a few weeks ago was playing in the All-Ireland League -won't have faced anything like the punishment that was dished out by a bruising Toulouse pack. He will be all the better for the experience.

Denis Buckley and Tom McCartney were always going to be significant losses in the front-row, while Quinn Roux failing a late fitness test didn't exactly help matters.

The South African second-row is expected to recover from his concussion, but Lam is sweating over the fitness of Tiernan O'Halloran, who limped off on Saturday and Niyi Adeolokun, who left the Sportsground with his arm in a sling.

Marnitz Boshoff is due to arrive in Connacht after the Golden Lions were knocked out of the Currie Cup on Saturday. The Springbok out-half will add plenty of experience but Lam won't rush him into the side this weekend.

"You need to learn the plays, that's the way Connacht Rugby is, it's not about the individual," the coach explained. "Everyone has got to know their jobs, know their roles and then they need to get up to speed quickly on that."

The 'Connacht way' continues to, and while Muldoon is likely to again address the squad ahead of another big week, no-one will need to be told what is required on Sunday.

Irish Independent

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