Sunday 4 December 2016

Lam's sights on Thomond tie for injury-hit Connacht

Connacht 21 Brive 17

John Fallon

Published 23/11/2015 | 02:30

Connacht’s Jack Carty shows his determination as he’s tackled by Kevin Buys on Saturday night
Connacht’s Jack Carty shows his determination as he’s tackled by Kevin Buys on Saturday night
Pat Lam

This was Connacht's first win in three meetings over Brive and in the process the side from the Limousin region became the 15th French club that they have defeated in European action.

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But, you suspect, such stats will be just mere footnotes on what is developing into the best season Connacht have ever produced. This was their seventh win in a row, their eighth from nine this season, and they head to Thomond Park next Saturday leading both the Pro12 and their pool in the Challenge Cup.

Now for new frontiers. They have not won in Thomond Park since the amateur days of 1986 and only once have they managed to defeat Munster in the professional era. You suspect they are going to have to start take some Irish scalps on a regular basis if they are to be taken as serious contenders.

Saturday presents a glorious chance to make a big statement, and Lam knows it, even if he will try to focus his injury-ravaged side that it is just another game after another pile of injuries on Saturday were heaped on a side trying to recover from their nightmare Russia trip.

"We only had the one training run to build into this game, it was not ideal, but that is why this win is so much more pleasing," Lam said.

"It's extremely big character-building exercise for all of us here, and it is going to hold us in good stead for what is coming up. We have taken a big hit in the injuries, and we are going to have regather and regroup and see who's still standing for an exciting week ahead down at Thomond Park."

Nepia Fox-Matamua could possibly be out for the season with a cruciate knee injury, while there are several additions to an already lengthy casualty list.

"We've lost Nepia, he's done his ACL and that could be his season. It could be six months but we'll know more after he's had a scan.

"Andrew Browne went into theatre on Saturday night. A stud went through his hand. He's got to get that repaired. Ben Marshall and Eoin McKeon failed the HIA test so they'll go through the return-to-play protocols over the next couple of days and we'll see where there at," added Lam.

He will now try to get his men to set their sights on Anthony Foley's charges for a top-of-the-table clash live on Sky Sports next Saturday. They could hardly ask for a better platform to make a statement.

"We know it is a big game because of the situation. It's one v two, it's Thomond Park, we haven't won there. But I think everything we've done in my time here is talk through a process.

Mental

"Now it's about having a good week. It's one thing we are thankful for is that we have a proper week to prepare for the game. Munster have had a week to rest and will be pretty fresh.

"It's a mental challenge and that's what we've been building over the last few weeks. We certainly aren't underestimating the challenge we face," said Lam.

Connacht had to come from behind to lead 11-5 at the break. Out-half Jack Carty landed two penalties and in between sent a superb cross-field kick which skipper Tiernan O'Halloran touched back for Rory Parata to score for the second week in a row.

Robbie Henshaw creating the initial opening which saw former Leinster lock Marshall crown his first start with a try six minutes after the restart.

But Connacht coughed up a try almost immediately to Brive winger Benito Masilevu.

Connacht got a third from impressive scrum-half Kieran Marmion but never looked like getting a bonus when Henshaw, without the benefit of a TMO, was adjudged not have grounded the ball after a great break by Parata.

Lam's men had to endure a nervous finish when Sevenaia Galala got Brive's third try five minutes from time, but they held on and will now face Munster full of confidence.

Connacht - T O'Halloran; R Parata, R Henshaw, B Aki (C Ronaldson 51), N Adeolokun; J Carty, K Marmion (I Porter 64); R Loughney (C O'Donnell 72), J Harris-Wright (D Heffernan 29-37 blood), N White (F Bealham 51); B Marshall (D Qualter 47), A Browne (R Loughney 73); E Masterson, N Fox-Matamua (D Heffernan 62), E McKeon (G Naoupu 62).

Brive - R Sola (A Mafi h-t, T Iribaren 54); M Bakaniceva (S Galala 51), B Petre, C Tuatara-Morrison, B Masilevu; M Ugalde, J Pejoine; D Lavergne (G Shvelidze 49), T Acquier (G Ribes 49), K Buys (G Jgenti 49); J Snyman, W Steenkamp (V Lebas 72); H Briatte, P Luafutu, W Whetton (S Hireche 49).

Ref - C Maxwell-Keys (RFU)

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