Thursday 29 September 2016

Team ethic driving Lam's men towards glory

'All for one, and one for all' ethos shines bright in historic season

Johnny O'Connor

Published 13/05/2016 | 02:30

The Sportsground has been a fortress for Connacht this season
The Sportsground has been a fortress for Connacht this season

Another wonderful weekend in the history of Connacht beckons, but first the team get a chance to take a breather and prepare for what is going to be one of the biggest games to ever grace the Sportsground.

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Connacht have been fantastic this season, and although it was not a vintage spectacle last weekend, their sheer work-rate and determination got them over the line against Glasgow. And it wasn't all down to the red card either.

That was obviously a factor, but Connacht still had to hold their heads as the tension and pressure mounted. Lesser teams would often play the occasion, but Connacht have learned otherwise this season.

Epic

The prize was so great: a semi-final in Galway. And another match for their loyal brigade of fans to enthuse over. This game has all the hallmarks of an epic.

Player of the season Bundee Aki was again outstanding last week.

He has been a marvel all season, and put it all on the line against Glasgow.

Even in scoring the try that set Connacht on their way, the movement, the leg-drive, the bloody-mindedness to get the ball down was awesome. He's a serious talent and has been Connacht's best player this season.

But he hasn't been short of competitors for that gong: everyone has stepped up to the plate, all over the pitch, including the replacements.

It's been a breakthrough season for so many individuals, with John Muldoon's form at the level that saw him capped in New Zealand in 2010.

The depth of the squad was once again tested to the max; the bench was brought in and guys like Shane O'Leary and Eoin McKeon stepped up to the mark when they were brought on and had big impacts on the game.

It's a feature of this team, they play games as a unit and no player is bigger than the team. Players like Bundee might do something brilliant from game to game, but overall it's all about the jersey and not who's wearing it.

One thing that really stood out last weekend was the togetherness of the squad, the camaraderie, everyone was fighting for each other. The line-speed in defence and aggression in the tackle are often key indicators of a team that have a great culture. It's the platform that the greatest teams have built success on.

It speaks volumes of what Pat Lam has brought in there. He has mentioned that if Connacht perform as team then the individuals will shine.

Connacht may not yet have the squad packed full of internationals like Glasgow, Leinster or even Ulster. But they do have the work ethic and the team spirit than has already taken them so far this year.

Glasgow will certainly offer a sterner test next time round and Connacht can't afford to leave scoring opportunities behind like previous games.

In knock-out rugby the chance to put something on the scoreboard becomes significantly tighter and there is no margin for error.

But I believe if Connacht execute on what they create then they are in a great position to win this game.

What a weekend that would be. I've never seen a Connacht side on the verge of something so great, with the players being so well prepared and I can't see them been overawed by the occasion.

Clarity

They key thing now is re-focusing after such an emotional roller-coaster like last weekend. Maybe in the past it would have been a problem, but the level of clarity in the game-plan has allowed for more consistency

They are backing up the performances, and if there is a dry track at the Sportsground then this game will be immense. I really am counting down the days to kick off.

It's fascinating from every angle. So many different sub-plots, but when it boils down to it, Connacht need to defeat the reigning Pro12 champions twice in three weeks.

Connacht picked up injuries last time out and they need to ensure the players coming through understand their jobs and what's ahead of them.

But I expect the preparation to be perfect, and the delivery to be fantastic.

Irish Independent

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