Thursday 14 December 2017

Connacht head coach Pat Lam: We're top of table but there's a long way to go

Pat Lam's Connacht were convincing winners against Zebre in Parma
Pat Lam's Connacht were convincing winners against Zebre in Parma

Connacht head coach Pat Lam was not getting carried away after his side emerged as leaders of Champions Cup Pool Two following their eight-try 52-7 demolition of 14-man Zebre.

Hat-trick hero Stacey Ili and his back-three colleague Cian Kelleher (two) scored five of the visitors' tries in Parma, with the province's scrum earning a penalty try and fly-half Jack Carty and replacement prop Conor Carey also touching down.

Zebre played a big part in their own downfall, with hooker Oliviero Fabiani sent off in the 29th minute for allegedly biting Connacht lock Quinn Roux, while replacement centre Tommy Castello saw yellow just before Connacht's bonus-point try in the 51st minute.

"It was a professional performance," said Lam, whose side hit the group summit with Toulouse and Wasps sharing the spoils in a 20-20 draw in France.

"We are top of the table now, but there's a long way to go. Obviously it shows how tough our pool is and it's going to come down to two of us probably going through. That is the battle.

"We are sitting in a good place, but we have a tough job in December away to Wasps (who are two points behind) in Coventry.

"The good thing now is we have two from two, nine points, so we can now park this. We have two big games in the PRO12 starting with Leinster at the RDS before we head into a break."

Having selected his youngest starting line-up for this round-two contest, Lam said the team's form was coming at the right time.

"The competition is coming back and you only get competition if guys choose to play well and do the work," he continued.

"There were some great performances, and there are some serious selection issues now. We are starting to get back to where we were at last year, but the maturity of the group is key regardless of their age."

Lam's focus is now on next Saturday's game against Leinster in what is a repeat of last season's PRO12 final, with the Connacht boss highlighting: "We were not clinical at times, trying to rush it, and sometimes just a couple of passes. I am very happy with the outcome, but there's a bit of work to be done with such a big game next week at the RDS.

"For us, we are a new side, and you see the depth and quality in their side (Leinster). It's a big one for us and it's another opportunity to create history."

Zebre captain George Biagi said it was disappointing to lose 52-7 following their 82-14 drubbing at the hands of Wasps last week. Their only consolation against Connacht was replacement hooker Tommaso d'Apice's second-half try.

"This is the Champions Cup so teams play the best rugby, and today we started really badly," Biagi said. "When you start badly, it's hard to get some momentum and points on the board. I thought we did well in the first half to concede only two (tries).

"The red card made life tremulously hard for us, and Connacht have quality and today they showed it. We just did everything wrong today and played into their hands."

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