Saturday 21 January 2017

Lam's pressure pays off as Connacht show growing maturity

Ospreys 16-21 Connacht

Matt Lloyd

Published 26/10/2015 | 02:30

Connacht's Ultan Dillane is tackled by Sam Davies
Connacht's Ultan Dillane is tackled by Sam Davies
Connacht's Quinn Roux tackles Ryan Bevington
Ospreys' Sam Davies tackles Craig Ronaldson
Richard Fussell of Ospreys tries to take the ball from Quinn Roux

Pat Lam continues to break new ground with Connacht in his pursuit of top-flight European rugby in Galway.

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The head coach, who led Connacht to their best finish in the Pro12 last season, masterminded the province's first win at the Liberty Stadium at the home of four-time champions Ospreys.

And Lam knows results like this must become a regular occurrence if they are to break into the top six and, with it, Champions Cup rugby. "These are the games that will make the difference," Lam said. "We love this meritocracy system and want to be playing regularly in the Champions Cup but narrowly missed out last season.

"We were consistently fifth or sixth in the league but missed out because we lost these big games against the top sides.

"So I put some pressure on the group during the week. We don't normally look at the table that closely but we have to start handling the pressure and this was a great opportunity to show we are learning to do that. Now we can tick this off as a big achievement.

"Ospreys are a team that have set a benchmark in Wales and are regularly in the top four of the league. We've had plenty of tough games here so to get this win is so pleasing, especially when you consider the average age of our squad was 23."

Matt Healy and Bundee Aki scored in either half but it was the groundwork done during the week that won this game. They simply held their shape while the Ospreys scattered and comfortably repelled the Welsh when the pressure came in the final 30 minutes as the hosts rolled out their internationals.

Life will get tougher as players return from the World Cup but Connacht have capitalised on the first two months of the season with four wins from five to share top spot with Scarlets.

"This period was important. All the coaches have known the World Cup was coming for the past four years so prepared accordingly," Lam said. "I was at Auckland when we had a lot of All Blacks leave us for long periods but you plan for that. It's all about the squad. You could have a real rock star of a player but you won't go anywhere without the rest of the team."

Ospreys - R Fussell (D Evans, 61); T Grabham, B John, J Matavesi, E Walker; S Davies, B Leonard (T Habberfield, 61); R Bevington (P James, 49), S Parry (S Otten, 34-40, 61), D Arhip (A Jarvis, 52), L Ashley (capt), R Thornton (R Bernardo, 74), J King, D Baker (J Bearman, 67), S Underhill (J Tipuric, 49).

Connacht - T O'Halloran (capt, N Adeolokun, 14, R Parata, 65); D Leader, B Aki, C Ronaldson, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, S Delahunt (D Heffernan, 62), R Ah You (F Bealham, 70), Q Roux (U Dillane, 61), A Muldowney, E McKeon (J Muldoon, 50), E Masterson, N Fox-Matamua.

Ref - Andrew Brace (Ireland)

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