Sunday 25 September 2016

Fans hit new heights to help us push for glory

Pat Lam

Published 25/03/2016 | 02:30

Pat Lam puts his players through their paces ahead of their game against Leinster (SPORTSFILE)
Pat Lam puts his players through their paces ahead of their game against Leinster (SPORTSFILE)

After four weeks away from the Sportsground, we are finally back in Galway tomorrow for the big game against Leinster.

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The fixture has been sold out since Wednesday so there is a great buzz around the city for this top of the table clash.

With a break during the Six Nations period, we've had a good bit of time together to prepare for this crucial block of six games, starting with Leinster tomorrow.

We had a really good week's training including the two-day camp in Westport last week, which was hugely beneficial and really enjoyable. We did a lot of good work as a whole squad and we ticked off a lot of boxes in terms of rugby preparation and some good team bonding.

Coming into this run of games, one thing is guaranteed - the starting team for this weekend will not be the starting team for the rest of the six games.

We're going to need everybody competing and as well as having players return from injury, the integration of young Academy players in our senior squad continues. It is so important that everyone is ready to step up and that has always been our approach.

We have six huge games coming up - five Pro12 and the Challenge Cup quarter-final. The exciting part is that, for the first time in Connacht's history, we know that if we perform well in those games, there are two semi-finals and two finals up for grabs.

Goals

But what has got us to this point is the ability to focus on one game at a time and the opposition in front of us. Despite all the talk outside, we must continue to do that if we want to achieve our goals.

Looking at the game tomorrow, it's the best defensive team in the league up against the best attacking team which is a great challenge for both sides. We know they're going to be hard to break down.

But if we work hard off the ball, we have confidence that our structures will ask questions of their D. Hopefully the weather will allow us to play the game we want to play and give us the best chance to execute.

I have a lot of respect for who Leinster are and what they have achieved. There is a lot of quality right across the squad and I believe Leo Cullen, in his first season as head coach, has done a tremendous job.

It's great to see some of the young, talented Irish players that he is bringing through.

Tomorrow, we are expecting a pretty passionate, fired-up opposition. They will be disappointed to have missed the opportunity to go top of the table after losing to Glasgow last week but both teams know that at the full-time whistle one of us will be in that spot, which adds some bite to the fixture.

Everyone here is fighting so hard for the jersey and we had some serious selection headaches this week, particularly with guys coming back from injury.

While some boys are disappointed this week, we all know it's this competition for places that's making Connacht stronger. It really pleased me this week to see the quality of the training from those players that weren't named in the match-day squad. It brought the whole standard of our preparation to another level, which is exactly what we need going into games at this level.

It's a big game. This is why we all play rugby - it's the closest you'll get to Test rugby with your club team.

Although there's a lot of rivalry around these derby games and the fans really get up for it, we have to take the emotion and occasion out of it, and go back to getting our jobs done and being really clear on the game-plan. Our whole focus is on preparing well. Then we can get out there and enjoy what we do based on all the hard work put in during the week.

Since I've been here, I've always been impressed by the contribution the supporters make in creating that special atmosphere at the Sportsground. But in the last few games, it's gone to another level.

We have no doubt that with the three massive home games to come - Leinster, Munster and the defending champions Glasgow - that it's going to be even better than ever before.

We really appreciate all the support we have. It really does make a massive difference to what we do. Long may it continue.

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