Griffin desperate for more than damage limitation
THE Stade Ernest-Wallon is a hell of a place to go looking for your first win in five games, but that is exactly what Connacht face tomorrow.
Eoin Griffin summed up his side's task rather neatly, when saying: "There's no easy way to get out of a hole, you just have to work hard."
The Pat Lam era has yet to catch fire with two wins over Zebre the only points on the board and the Pro12's bottom side know, that despite picking up losing bonus points in five of their last six defeats, the business they're in demands victories at some point.
The priority right now is winning games and proving the doubters wrong and the next five weeks are pivotal for their ambitions, with daunting back-to-back meetings with Toulouse followed by a winnable home game against the Dragons and derbies away to Munster and at home to Leinster.
Tomorrow's game is easily the toughest on that agenda, but the run of defeats has put Lam under pressure. Griffin believes the coach and his staff are going in the right direction and the players now need to repay their investment.
"All the players have complete faith in what we're doing, we've all signed off on what the coaches are doing and the way we're trying to play. It hasn't been ideal for Pat and the new coaches coming in, the way we've started, it has been frustrating, but you just want to get the monkey off your back," he said.
"It's a high pressure enough job being a head coach of a professional rugby side and you can see how hard the whole staff is working to have us prepared the best possible way for the games. Everyone's buying into it, which is why we all expect that the run we're on will end sooner rather than later."
While they would probably take a performance tomorrow, centre Griffin admits that the reality for the squad is clear – they will only gain recognition and respect by starting to come out on the right end of tight results.
There was widespread disappointment west of the Shannon when Robbie Henshaw was the club's sole representative in the November international squad, but, as the 23-year-old Galway native confesses, the hopefuls in the Connacht team must start showing their calibre by performing in big games.
"Sure, you want to impress and the best way to do that is on the pitch and you have to be winning games," Griffin said. "That's first and foremost for me and for most of us at Connacht who have international aspirations."
A former Ireland U-20 outside centre, Griffin found himself back in the national frame last summer when he joined the Emerging Ireland squad at the Tbilisi Cup. He knows that full honours will hardly be coming in the immediate future, but with the No 13 jersey about to come up for grabs at the end of the season, he sees an opportunity to put himself in the frame.
"It's a massive vacancy. He (Brian O'Driscoll) has had ownership of the jersey for 15 years. You do look at that and there is a position there that you want to get to," he added.
Griffin acknowledges that facing this Toulouse side even without Gillian Galan and Luke McAllister is a "daunting task."
"You have to go over there looking for a win. You can't go over looking at damage limitation, there's no point – that's not why you play rugby," he said.
"We have been over there and know what to expect. I'm pretty sure there's a big number of supporters going over. I didn't play last time, but the lads said that having a corner of our fans made a big difference. Hopefully, we can get a few scores early."
They will be hoping that the return of John Muldoon will bolster their efforts, but a quick look at the Toulouse team confirms the mountain they must climb.
Connacht are up for it, but they might have to wait for their win.
TOULOUSE – C Poiternaud; Y Huget, F Fritz, Y David, H Gear; JP Barraque, J Vermaak; G Steenkamp, C Ralapelle, C Johnston; E Maka, Y Maestri; Y Camara, T Dusautoir (capt), L Picamoles. Reps: J Bregvadze, S Ferreira, Y Montes, R Millo-Chluski, C Tolofua, JM Doussain, L Beauxis, T Matanavou.
CONNACHT – R Henshaw; F Carr, E Griffin, D McSharry, M Healy; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, S Henry, N White; M Kearney, C Clarke (capt); J Muldoon, J Heenan, G Naoupu. Reps: J Harris Wright, D Buckley, R Ah You, M Swift, E McKeon, F Murphy, C Ronaldson, G Duffy.
REF – M Mitrea (Italy)
Toulouse v Connacht,
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* Remaining tickets for next Saturday's match between Connacht and Toulouse can still be purchased on tickets.ie, from the Connacht Rugby office and Centra and SuperValu stores province-wide.