Friday 21 October 2016

Grenoble will test us but I know we're ready

Pat Lam

Published 08/04/2016 | 02:30

Caolin Blade scores a try against Ulster last weekend to finish off one of the best attacking moves of the season (SPORTSFILE)
Caolin Blade scores a try against Ulster last weekend to finish off one of the best attacking moves of the season (SPORTSFILE)

As one only two Pro12 teams (along with Newport Gwent Dragons) competing in Europe this weekend, a lot of people have been asking would we be better off having the break to concentrate solely on the league.

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But we definitely don't see it like that. At the start of the season, we set out a quarter-final in the Challenge Cup as one of our goals and now we are here with the chance to bring a semi-final home to the Sportsground in two weeks' time.

Yes, we have a small squad and some more injuries to deal with, but we also have players who are chomping at the bit to get out there and pull on the Connacht jersey. So a break is not something we have thought about.

We want to be playing in as many games as we can this season and that is what will help us continue to grow as a team.

Although it's a different competition, our focus and mindset does not change and we will approach this game with the same intensity as we did with the last two against Leinster and Ulster.

If we don't remain focused on the job, we will be in big trouble come kick off in Grenoble on Saturday night.

While the loss against Ulster last week was disappointing for us as a team, I was really pleased with many aspects of the way we played against a dogged Irish side.


The try we scored after the break, finished off by Caolin Blade, was one of our best pieces of attacking play all season and a real team effort, so that was very satisfying.

We didn't get any points from the game for all our work but the defence and the character shown by the boys at the end, when down to 13 men, was phenomenal.

Our defensive work has been a big part of our review for some time and an area we had targeted. So when you can see improvement in the last two games against Leinster and Ulster - boys getting into the right structures - that brings about a great sense of achievement.

We're working hard to keep that defence at the top level as we go up against some very challenging opposition.

With a team like Grenoble, who like to play a very open, attacking game like us, it's probably going to come down to who can defend better.

We have an idea about what they can in attack do but also about how we can handle them.

Grenoble are not your typical French team. They have Bernard Jackman as their head coach, and they like to move the ball, so it is going to be an exciting game, a pretty fast game, I would say, with the weather set to hold up for us.

They have won their last three games to put themselves in a really good position and propel them closer to the top six in the Top 14.

But with the winner of the Challenge Cup gaining automatic entry to Champions Cup rugby next season, they know this is also their big opportunity and they'll be going all out, especially in front of their home crowd.

But we really enjoy going to France. It's something different and we've had some great days there over the past number of years. I think only myself and John Muldoon have actually played in Grenoble before so it's a great opportunity for our young squad to go somewhere new and test themselves against another opposition.

For everyone, but especially some of the more experiences players like Mul, to be in the position we're in at this stage of the season is special. There is no doubt that we want to push on and achieve something together as the 2015/16 squad.

But we know we can only do that by performing well in the upcoming games. We definitely have four games remaining. Perform in those and we'll get the bonus games. That starts this week with knock out rugby in Europe. If we stick to what has been working for us and do the job in France, we'll have a home semi-final and then it's another game to get us into a final - somewhere we've never been before!

It's the same in the Pro12. How we deal with the remaining three games will determine how far we can go.

Without a doubt, we want to get to the end of the season and be able to look back with satisfaction and celebrate what we have achieved as a team.

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