Tuesday 6 December 2016

We're finally learning how to close out tight games

Pat Lam

Published 30/10/2015 | 02:30

Connacht’s Quinn Roux is tackled by Richard Fussell of Ospreys during the Westerners’ impressive victory
Connacht’s Quinn Roux is tackled by Richard Fussell of Ospreys during the Westerners’ impressive victory

To get the win on the road to Ospreys for the first time in more than a decade was a great milestone for Connacht. The most pleasing aspect was being able to see clearly that we are maturing as a side and that we are learning from our errors.

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Those last ten minutes at Liberty Stadium on Saturday, in particular, felt very significant. What we saw in those final stages were the lessons learnt from last season.

So often have we been in those high-pressure situations and close games where we have been leading and dominating play but have lost our structure and shape at the end to come out with the 'unlucky losers' tag.

But on Saturday, the boys executed everything that was trained for perfectly. With the clock ticking down, and leading by just two points, we kept our territory and got another three points, and then we had the last three minutes to defend.

We didn't get the kick off but the boys got into their systems in defence and it was those systems that turned them over. Then we needed to shut the game down, and it was back into the systems that we had worked on and it was executed perfectly.

So from defence to attack, it was all system work with Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty driving it excellently.

Opportunity

I don't normally focus on the table, but after seeing the results from Friday night, I said "right here's an opportunity - if we win this game we put ourselves in a really good position and we'll be sitting on the same points as the top unbeaten team".

I put pressure on the boys to use their experiences of these games from last year. We've been in these sort of games before, when the pressure is on, and it's about which team can handle it better.

We had made some team changes and it was a young side with our backline averaging 23 years old.

We've spoken at length about players across the squad being able to come in and perform their roles to ensure competition and it was pleasing to see that happen on Saturday.

We're certainly happy with our start to the season. This period was important, of course.

A lot of people will say that we were playing teams without their internationals but all the coaches have known the World Cup was coming for the past four years so prepared accordingly.

For me, our game is all about the team. You could have a real rock star of a player but you won't go anywhere without the rest of the team. As the old saying goes: 'a champion team will always beat a team of champions'.

We all know that it will get tougher from here on in. Nothing has changed for us from game to game. We celebrate the win but like every game, we go through the process. What did we do well? What do we need to do better? The players are driving that process which is great.

Edinburgh are always a tough side to play, and we were really disappointed to lose to them at home last year - our first home defeat that season.

No doubt they'll have some of their international players back in the side but regardless of who is or isn't coming back, it's still team versus team.

When we look at Edinburgh this week, we look at the team we're facing, not necessarily the individuals. We look at Edinburgh's style, their physicality, the fact that they'll be hurting after last week's loss to Zebre.

We know what's coming and we have had to prepare for that. I know Alan Solomons well and they will be well drilled for this game.

They will have been massively disappointed to have lost their unbeaten record and they'll certainly be looking to get back on track this week.

Our game is after the World Cup final. After all the build-up and all the great games we've seen, we are now near the end with New Zealand and Australia facing off. It's the two unbeaten teams and it's the two teams that play the style of rugby that is probably the greatest advertisement of our game.

And that's what you want - your two top teams playing on the biggest stage. That is what will promote the game and encourage more kids to pick up a rugby ball.

Who do I think will win? The All Blacks of course.

Irish Independent

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