Friday 17 November 2017

Lam predicts bright future if Connacht attitude is right

Northampton 21 Connacht 15

Christian Day of Northampton Saints is tackled by Jack Carty of Connacht. Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images
Christian Day of Northampton Saints is tackled by Jack Carty of Connacht. Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

John Fallon

Pat Lam is confident that Connacht will be back in the Champions Cup before long and that more success will come to the Sportsground, as long as players maintain the right attitude.

And Lam, who bowed out after four years following this gutsy defeat in Franklin's Gardens on Saturday, welcomed the decision by the EPCR to change qualification to the first seven teams in the Guinness Pro12 table, a move he feels will not just benefit Connacht, but the league and Champions Cup.

Christian Day of Northampton Saints. Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images
Christian Day of Northampton Saints. Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

"It's fantastic. It's something we've all wanted, even the Italian teams. It's going to make the European competitions stronger and all three competitions stronger, particularly the Pro12. The best seven go through and Challenge Cup winner goes through, fantastic. I think it's been finally got right and it's great for European rugby," said Lam.

Connacht, for now, will ply their trade in the Challenge Cup for the start of the Kieran Keane era, but at least bow out with their heads held high, and Lam admitted that it was good that it didn't end with the 50-14 loss to Munster last time out.

"If last week was the season over it would have been a real downer. I'm very proud of the effort. That's one thing we've always prided ourselves on is that, win or lose, we'll front up and I take my hat off to the boys. They did that today.

"Ultimately, Connacht is good enough to play in the Champions Cup. That'll always be frustrating. Not as frustrating as not making the play-off stages this season after beating Wasps and beating Toulouse."

Jack Carty of Connacht. Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images
Jack Carty of Connacht. Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Connacht on Saturday were more like the team that Lam led to that unforgettable PRO12 crown last season, rather than the disjointed performances which have marred this campaign.

In keeping with the dreadful season, they had issues before they started, with centre Eoin Griffin ruled out due to a registration problem, experienced lock Andrew Browne withdrawn beforehand with a calf injury, while winger Cian Kelleher lasted just over a minute.

By then Harry Mallinder, son of Northampton coach Jim, had converted his own try. You'd have got some odds then on Connacht laying siege on the home line in the closing minutes, requiring just a converted try to win it.

They battled hard, looking more like the side which won the PRO12 last year than the one which has been all over the place this term.

Ahsee Tuala of Northampton Saints tackles Craig Ronaldson of Connacht. Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images
Ahsee Tuala of Northampton Saints tackles Craig Ronaldson of Connacht. Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Niyi Adeolokun raced through to finish Craig Ronaldson's grubber and a couple of kicks from Ronaldson had them just 13-10 adrift at the break.

Northampton, for all their stars, were far from formidable. Nic Groom got through for a key try after 57 minutes, but Connacht hit back and were rewarded for their ambition in going for the corner when Dave Heffernan scored just after the hour mark.

However, they were unable to snatch a victory with a sustained late surge as Saints desperately held on.

Northampton Saints - A Tuala (M Haywood; B Foden, N Tuitavake, L Burrell (R Hutchinson 23), G North; H Mallinder, N Groom (L Dickson 67); A Waller (C Ma'afu 62), D Hartley, K Brookes (G Denman 62); C Lawes, C Day (A Ratuniyarawa 63); J Gibson, T Harrison (T Wood 59), L Picamoles.

Connacht- T O'Halloran; N Adeolokun, D Poolman, C Ronaldson, C Kelleher (M Healy 3); J Carty, K Marmion (J Cooney 64); D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham (C Carey 67); Q Roux, J Cannon (U Dillane 49); S O'Brien, J Heenan (N Dawai 56), J Muldoon.

Ben Foden of Northampton Saints tackles Matt Healy of Connacht. Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images
Ben Foden of Northampton Saints tackles Matt Healy of Connacht. Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Ref - M Raynal (France).

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