Saturday 10 December 2016

We'll come back better and stronger after break

Pat Lam

Published 11/11/2016 | 02:30

Ireland’s Niyi Adeolokun. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s Niyi Adeolokun. Photo: Sportsfile

What a performance that was from Ireland. Once again it highlights the beauty of 'team' sport.

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Having real clarity and understanding in a game-plan and your role within it, pride in who you represent, trust in your mates next to you, and absolute belief that the work you have done on and off the field. . . this all gives you the best chance of victory against all the odds.

This is such a significant moment for the future of Irish rugby and Connacht as part of the four strong provinces. The success of the national team on the world stage not only considerably funds the game at all levels, but it also continues to grow the game by inspiring people all across the country to get involved in our wonderful game.

Mightily

All our province can be mightily proud of contributing three players (and match-winner Robbie Henshaw) to the match-day 23, as well as Tiernan O'Halloran and Niyi Adeolokun being called up this week. That success follows the seven players involved in South Africa during the summer.

Our alignment with IRFU is stronger than it ever was as we continue to grow the game and inspire our community through on-field success.

As we sign off the first block of games of the season it is a good time to pause and take stock of where we are as a team. It can be all-consuming going game to game so we welcomed the small break to give guys a mental and physical break, and give us the opportunity to reflect on the last few months.

While there have been disappointing performances and results as well as the good wins, our goals in both competitions are still very much alive. We are top of our pool in the European Champions Cup after our wins against Toulouse and Zebre.

It's where we need to be going into two tough back-to-back games with Premiership flyers Wasps next month. We know it's a long way to go in the competition but we have confidence going into the next rounds.

In my opinion if Connacht can reach the last eight of the Champions Cup it will be on par with winning the Pro12 as we're competing with Europe's best-resourced teams.

In the Guinness Pro12 there have been plenty of ups and downs. We got off to a slow start for a variety of reasons - including a rather unusual pre-season which saw two of our scheduled warm-up games cancelled on us.

It wasn't ideal and it meant we were slightly undercooked going into the opening games.

But our performances improved each week and that gave us confidence in the process that made us successful last season.

We have a group of players who are so eager to fix the mistakes and one of our strengths is that we learn quickly.

We kickstarted a good run of wins with a bonus-point victory over Edinburgh at the Sportsground and that was backed up a week later with another four-try win over Ulster in front of a sell-out crowd at home.

They were the only team I hadn't beaten in my time here so I enjoyed that one.

Unfortunately the defeats away to Leinster and Dragons were particularly disappointing. When you are gifting teams scoring chances through your own missed tackles and dropped balls, it is extremely frustrating.

We know that we were not up to our own high standards in those games and the players are the hardest on themselves about it. We know we can be better and I believe the break came at an important time for us.

That mental break is crucial. We live in each other's pockets for many weeks of the year, and we all know how important it is to get away and spend time with family and friends outside of this environment.

On Monday we're all back in for a training week and what we see as another mini pre-season. We had a lot of players coming in late to us this season: Marnitz Boshoff, James Cannon, Lewis Stevenson and Stacey Ili, while the international boys didn't have the same run-in as the rest of the squad.

So we see this week as an important one in getting everyone fully up to speed on our systems and structures. That should hold us in good stead going into the next challenging block of games.

With experienced players like Tom McCartney, Denis Buckley, Ronan Loughney, Sean O'Brien, Nepia Fox-Matamua, John Cooney, Craig Ronaldson and Matt Healy all due back from injury next week, we expect the competition to really intensify in terms of training and selection.

That's all you want within the squad: competition and guys pushing each other hard to raise the standards across the board. I'm confident we will come back from the break stronger and better.

Irish Independent

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