Pat Lam: Big night ahead as we seek victory over Ulster
Published 07/10/2016 | 02:30
While it was great to get our first win and five points last week against Edinburgh, what pleased me the most was our performance and the improvements we saw across the board.
Of course it wasn't perfect and there were plenty of areas we highlighted in the review on Monday where we need to improve but overall it was a good feeling coming in on Monday knowing that we had trusted the process to get ourselves the outcome we all wanted.
Edinburgh are a tough side and we never have easy games against them. Our work off the ball as well as our defence was up another level and that was really pleasing.
There were some very good individual performances that contributed to the team doing well. Jake Heenan was awarded the Man of the Match and it capped off an important week for him. He's been very busy off the field working as an ambassador for the Tackle Your Feelings campaign with IRUPA.
It's a great campaign aimed at the general public which encourages people to become more proactive in looking after their own mental well-being on a daily basis.
And we are all really proud of Jake who has courageously told his own story around the challenges he faced as a young man in order to help break down stigma around mental and emotional well-being.
Personally, I was delighted to be asked to speak at the recent panel discussion in Galway with Jake around Tackle Your Feelings. As a coach, and a teacher, I really believe we have a duty to help develop rounded people, and not just rugby players.
It is a big part of my coaching philosophy and something I feel strongly about. We put a big emphasis on relationships here and encourage our players to talk and share with each other. I encourage everyone to watch Jake's video and visit www.tackleyourfeelings.com.
Relationships will be very important when we take to the field against Ulster. We were happy with a lot of the improvements last week but we will have to step it up another level again tonight. Ulster are a quality side stacked with internationals and they are top of the table and undefeated from playing quality rugby. Our main focus this week has been on ourselves and ensuring we nail our own jobs as individuals and as team - that will give us the best chance of beating them.
Obviously injuries continue to be a worry as well as a disruption and we lost three of our key senior players in the last game with Tom McCartney, Denis Buckley and Matt Healy all going down. It's not ideal but it's something every team has to deal with and it gives a chance for other guys to come in and do a job for us.
It's a long season and I've always said that we'll have to rely on everyone at different times. That's always been the way we operate.
It was an even busier week than usual in the build-up to this game. We had some guys away with Ireland for a two-day camp early in the week and on Wednesday, myself and John Muldoon were in Dublin for the media launch of the European Champions Cup.
Luckily, it wasn't too much of a journey for us as we had to get back down in the afternoon for our big pitch session. It was fantastic to be there though and for the first time we were there after qualifying for Europe from our own hard work. The excitement for Champions Cup rugby and the visit of Toulouse in just eight days' time has really started to build now and this is where Connacht Rugby wants to be every season.
But before that there is a huge derby game tonight and we're fully focused on Ulster. It's all set up to be a cracking atmosphere at the Sportsground under lights and we are determined to take it to another level.
This week, we also had the news out that Dave Ellis will be heading back home to Super Rugby at the end of 2016. Skills was a big area I wanted to focus on as soon as I was appointed back in 2013 and I brought in Dave to drive that area for us. He's done a fantastic job and really contributed to the success of our team.
After the final I managed to convince Dave to stay for one more season as he was keen to return home with his family. He now has a great opportunity to not only return home to New Zealand but work in Super Rugby and I'm really pleased for him.