Sunday 15 September 2019

Emerging young stars make light of injury woes

Hooker Shane Delahunt has stepped up to cover injuries to the likes of Tom McCartney and Jason Harris-Wright
Hooker Shane Delahunt has stepped up to cover injuries to the likes of Tom McCartney and Jason Harris-Wright

Pat Lam

Following the break for Challenge Cup, we are two from two in the European competition and I'm really proud of the boys after that period.

It was always going to be a really testing two weeks and we had said all along that it was a great opportunity to build mental toughness and resilience.

I didn't exactly expect all the challenges that were thrown our way but to go out and beat a massively physical side like Brive, after the minimal preparation we had, was pleasing.

Maybe we would have liked that game on Saturday to be more of a convincing win with a fourth try and we would have preferred not to have conceded those two scores, but considering the injury toll from the game and the fact we had two hookers and three props in the pack in the closing stages, it was very satisfying to come out with the win.

In tomorrow's game against Munster, 13 of the match-day squad have come through our academy and I think that is good indicator of the successful systems we have in place at Connacht Rugby.

Way back before pre-season, myself and Nigel Carolan sat down and looked at the areas where the senior squad may need support in terms of academy players stepping up.

Instead of bringing them in the week of a game when we have injuries, we highlighted the importance of integrating six or seven players fully into the senior squad from the start of pre-season.


The benefits of having guys in training sessions, weights sessions and mixing with the senior players full time is invaluable when it comes to executing their roles on match day.

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Nigel and his management team do a fantastic job in preparing and developing the individual both on and off the field and then when they do make the step up it's our job to get them integrated into the systems and structures of the pro team. It's a process that is working really well for us.

Our lengthening injury list does put pressure on us. But what makes it easier for us as coaches, is when you have guys ready to step up and fill the jersey.

We were without Jason Harris-Wright for nearly a year before he came back and then our most experienced hooker Tom McCartney goes down.

Fortunately we have Dave Heffernan and Shane Delahunt doing really well for us and pushing each other hard so there isn't a panic when we lose those guys.

Jake Heenan and Nepia Fox-Matamua are unavailable but James Connolly comes in at openside this week having had some good experience in the Challenge Cup and training with us all season.

These young guys are getting their opportunities and more and more academy players are knocking on my door asking what they have to do to train with the senior team. These players all have talent and most of the time they just need the right attitude and willingness to work hard to make the most of that talent.

I've witnessed the speed of acceleration in the development of players at Connacht over recent years and it's something that really pleases us about the systems we have in place.

There's no doubt we will be relying on young individuals to do their job for the team in another tough challenge for us in Limerick.

We've always said Connacht is not about the individual. Everything we do is about the team. I think we've been successful so far this season because guys just step up and put the jersey on and do their job and that's what's got to happen now with all the new injuries.

Munster have had a week off but that's just another of the challenges. The coaches have worked on a game-plan that we believe we'll put us in good stead and we've had a full week training as opposed to last week.

We know it's a big game, first versus second in the table, live on Sky Sports - and we've never won in Thomond Park in the professional era. But we never look at history ourselves, what we look at is the opportunity we have this week. There's four points on the line, it's another game, and another opportunity to play as a team.

The outcome will be determined by the work that we do every day here. The confidence comes from the work we do, day in, day out in the Sportsground.

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