Sunday 21 January 2018

Watch: Pat Lam talks passionately after Connacht's heroic Champions Cup win over Toulouse

Connacht head coach Pat Lam is greated by young supporters
Connacht head coach Pat Lam is greated by young supporters

Connacht's stirring 23-21 win over four-times European Cup champions Toulouse at the Sportsground was years in the making, according to head coach Pat Lam.

Previous adversities had helped Connacht develop a winning mentality, ensuring confidence in their ability to come back from a 21-11 deficit at half-time.

"It shows how far we have come as a team since the last time we played them three years ago, and we expect to win as a team based on the work we do," said Lam, following his side's winning start to Champions Cup Pool Two.

"We are a representation of the west of Ireland, and people deal with adversity all of the time. This is just a proud day for us and our supporters. We are all about inspiring our community, that is the purpose of Connacht Rugby and there was more great inspiration tonight."

It took a 67th-minute try from man of the match Bundee Aki to put the PRO12 champions in front for the first time in the match, and they held out in the final minutes when the visitors were pressing deep in the Connacht half.

"The biggest thing is the character of these guys," said Lam.

"We went down 9-0 on the basis of making errors and giving away (scrum) penalties, and then a soft try before half-time. But what sums us up the most is the last two minutes of the game.

"To stand up after all that physical work against guys who were massive, to close them out, knowing that if they gave away a penalty, they win, but they had the faith to go through it and nail their jobs - that probably sums up this team."

However, the Connacht boss said the biggest disappointment was not bagging a try-scoring bonus point, after winger Niyi Adeolokun opened the home side's scoring with a 20th-minute try and full-back Tiernan O'Halloran crossed the whitewash after 58 minutes before Aki claimed the third.

"We know how to play, and we have high expectations to win games, not just hope. We had a target of five points," Lam said. "We got three tries, and we could have gone the extra one, that is the expectation of ourselves."

Connacht supporters reacted to the comeback with a pitch invasion at the final whistle, which Toulouse's English replacement Toby Flood said was "almost over the top".

"It is almost like it hasn't dawned on the supporters how good Connacht are, what a force they are," Flood said.

"They have won the PRO12. They are no longer that team I last played here nine or 10 years ago with the Newcastle Falcons when we were expected to come and win. It has completely changed."

Bundee Aki, centre, of Connacht is congratulated by teammates Tiernan O’Halloran, left, and Ultan Dillane, right, after scoring his side's third try
Bundee Aki, centre, of Connacht is congratulated by teammates Tiernan O’Halloran, left, and Ultan Dillane, right, after scoring his side's third try

Flood replaced Toulouse captain Florian Fritz for the final 11 minutes, and added: "It certainly wasn't the result we wanted, but we were under no illusions coming here how difficult it would be.

"We certainly knew going in at half-time 21-11 ahead that it was going to be a tight one, that we still needed to keep our foot on the throat a bit. But their ability to hold the ball creates pressure, and over time if you keep the ball long enough, you are going to squeeze defences, and that is what happened.

"It leaves us in a situation where we have come to an away fixture and got a (losing) bonus point, so we need to go home and win next week's game against Wasps who are the form team in the Premiership. It is no easy task, and then we will see how we are. It is disappointing because at half-time we were pretty positive."

Flood believes Toulouse, who had late first-half tries from Yann David and Jean-Marc Doussain, flagged in a high-tempo game, adding: "Tiredness to a point because the PRO12 and Premiership is very different to the Top 14. It's more a slug-fest there, and the ball is in play a lot longer here, so teams will ask more questions.

"Connacht ask lots of questions in attack and they do it well, and that, with fatigue, slowly bears down on you. They are a team that will always squeeze you."

Press Association

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