'I asked them to front up, and it was even better than last week'
IT seemed a strange declaration. Having seen his side lose five tries to nil at home, Connacht coach Pat Lam declared himself more proud of his players this week than after their historic win in Toulouse.
But in the context of the build-up the province have endured, it made sense.
They had just one fit scrum-half in the squad, Kieran Marmion -- despite having been in hospital on a drip on Thursday, he put in an impressive 80 minutes.
Losing reserve No 10 Craig Ronaldson to injury just a couple of minutes after his introduction and having to fly extra players out to Bedford for a British & Irish Cup fixture meant Lam will be glad to see that back of the week.
"Right throughout the team, the heart was unbelievable," Lam said afterwards.
"We are disappointed we lost shape and a bit of system at times. Last week we had that for long periods of time, the heart was channelled and we were able to achieve the result.
"Today we're disappointed we lost that and we gave away points that left us chasing the game against a pretty massive team.
"When you see them, they are about 5kgs bigger but the boys kept putting their bodies on the line. I am an extremely proud coach."
Ultimately, the concession of two tries from turnovers proved Connacht's undoing in the first half. "We probably played too much rugby in that middle part of the field," Lam admitted.
"Every time they got down to the '22', they capitalised. They got two tries and then you're behind against a team that brings on international after international. Even with two minutes to go, the crowd kept the boys going and they kept trying.
"What I asked was for them to do was front up heart-wise and commitment-wise and it was even better than last week. But we just broke down about our structure."
Lam spoke about giving the squad the next three days off which isn't all too surprising. Any squad gatherings might sustain the bug, but next Saturday they face a game of real significance at home to the Dragons as they look to haul themselves off the foot of the Pro12 table.
"We all talked in the changing-room and the senior boys mentioned it. The question was asked, 'Do we belong at the bottom of the table?' and there is a real commitment that we need to bring this (performance) not just next week but every week and get ourselves off the bottom of the table."
Captain Craig Clarke challenged his side to produce performances like the win on France on a more regular basis.
"We got a few tight hits in the scrum and a few line-out steals and we were able to do a few things there. So if we can bottle those things, then we know what we are capable of.
"The challenge for Connacht is to not do it once a month or once every three weeks, but to regularly, individually and collectively, get that type of performance. That's our challenge."
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