Pat Lam: Prospect of ending Belfast hoodoo excites us
Published 01/04/2016 | 02:30
Looking back to the final whistle of that win over Leinster, there were some great scenes at the Sportsground. You have to celebrate the victory and the hard work but I think it was an emotional release because of the manner in which we defended to close out the tight game.
But by the time we got back in the changing room, it was feet back on the ground and we were talking about the six-day turnaround to Ulster and getting that mental preparation right.
But I'm really proud of the guys after last week's effort. The derby games are special and they bring a lot of pressure, especially when a side like Leinster have such quality players coming off the bench. We understand how massive that win was for our supporters and everyone involved in the organisation.
After the game, I spoke about the contribution of the entire squad for that win, and in particular the guys who were left out of the match-day 23. Instead of dropping their heads, they rallied together and came out in training and pushed the starting team really hard. I believe it was that attitude that took the entire training week to another level and made the difference in the game. We said it was going to be the closest thing to Test match rugby and so you need a Test-like build up. So certainly, the guys on the field did the job but it's everybody in our squad that deserves the recognition.
The atmosphere on Saturday afternoon was incredible once again. I think it's just building and building and it's gone to another level now. I know that the Munster game is nearly sold out as well as the Glasgow game so it's fantastic that the supporters are coming on the journey with us. While we've two games on the road now, we'll be really looking forward to getting back to the Sportsground to more of that incredible support in two weeks' time.
Injuries continue to be a sub-plot of our season and it was really disappointing to lose AJ who was doing so well for us in the number 10 shirt. But that's life. Of course we'd love to have AJ, Jack and Craig all fit and available but you can only focus on the things you can control. We just move on and encourage the next guy to come in and do well in the jersey. Everyone saw that Caolin Blade had to step into the out-half position for ten minutes during the last game.
A lot of our backline players have that versatility by understanding the different roles and what is needed in each position. It's great to know that we have those options when we are under pressure, which we certainly have been at different times throughout the season.
Because of the short turnaround, preparing for Ulster tonight has been less about the physical sessions and more about the mental side of things and the learning in the classroom.
I know people are probably sick of hearing me talk about 'process' and our 'train to win' attitude but when that becomes your habit, which I think it has after nearly three years, it becomes easier for us to prepare for these so-called 'big games'.
We love playing at the Sportsground and we are determined to win here no matter who we run out against but we've also said that we don't want to become a team that's reliant on playing at home or having a big crowd behind us. It has to be around doing our job week in, week out, no matter who we face or where we face them.
Ulster will be very disappointed with their narrow loss to Glasgow last week but they are a different beast at Kingspan and we know that all too well, considering it's more that half a century since Connacht won there.
It makes this fixture even more challenging but at the same time, more exciting for us. We feel we were unlucky when we went up there last season and it was a close game ending 13-10. It was the same with our game here on Stephen's Day, with the scores tied at 3-3 in the 78th minute.
Tonight, it's about understanding how we can go about beating this Ulster side who are going to throw everything at us as they fight for a spot in the top four. It's a massive challenge and we're looking forward to it as we go into the game with a lot of confidence on the back of a good week's preparation. Kingspan is a great stadium and I'm sure it will be packed out with Ulster fans and a few travelling Connacht Clan. It's going to be a great night.