Friday 24 January 2020

Lam urges players to learn from heartbreak

Grenoble 33 Connacht 32

Matt Healy leaves Grenoble’s Tino Nemani grasping at thin air and, below, the Connacht ace after the final whistle. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Matt Healy leaves Grenoble’s Tino Nemani grasping at thin air and, below, the Connacht ace after the final whistle. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Connacht's Niyi Adeolokun goes over to score his side's third try. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Connacht's Matt Healy evades the tackle of Grenoble's Gio Aplon. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

There is no time for Connacht to feel sorry for themselves as they returned from Grenoble with nothing despite giving everything.

Pat Lam has urged his team to learn from this defeat and channel their pain and take it out on Munster next Saturday evening as they turn their attentions to the Guinness Pro12 run-in and securing a place in the final four for the first-time.

They left the Alps with plenty of credit and a legion of new admirers who watched the game on French free-to-air television, but when Connacht landed in Dublin yesterday they would have had plenty of regrets after allowing Bernard Jackman's side to come from behind three times to win.

Connacht played with ambition and spirit, scoring four sensational tries that spoke volumes for their approach. But they were undermined by poor decisions and execution as well as moments of ill-discipline against a well-coached Grenoble side whose half-backs guided them through.

"We got a couple of good leads and we let them back in just through a couple of errors. That's probably the big lesson we can take, to keep the foot on the throat," said Lam.

"James Connolly came up to me afterwards and apologised that he didn't shut the gate for that try just before half time. I said: 'Just learn from it. You don't need to apologise, just take how you're annoyed when we lost and use that when we win too. Always go to improve your game.

"Denis (Buckley) is apologising for the yellow card and I just said: 'Go and learn from it.' If we learn from it, it's not a problem. It's only an issue if we don't."

You just hope they don't change too much, because Lam has built a team who have become Ireland's great entertainers and, in a similarly put-together Grenoble, they found a worthy adversary.

Both teams threw everything into scoring tries in a Super Rugby-style 80 minutes.

They rode their luck defensively in the first half hour, but when they got the ball Connacht were ruthless in their determination to hurt Jackman's side with Matt Healy superb.


Fully aware of his opponents' punishing schedule and cognisant of his own team's advantage in the power stakes, Jackman sent his big men into contact to try and wear Connacht down.

"We felt that physically we could dominate Connacht," said the former Ireland hooker. "It wasn't that easy but we felt that those big carries we made, those big collisions would pay in the last 20 minutes.

"Connacht's last 15 against Leinster was incredibly hard, their last 10 against Ulster too and the Top 14 is a more power-based league. So at 19-16 at half-time, having said we were going to impose ourselves physically, I felt we were on the right track.

"Our half-backs didn't have a better game than Connacht's, but at the very important moments they controlled it really well and it probably won us the game," said Jackman.

Yet, for all the big punches they were shipping, Connacht kept landing blows. First Bundee Aki floated a risky pass that just cleared Hunt's finger-tips but released Healy up the right wing. He drew the last defender and put Niyi Adeolokun over for the first try.

Connacht doubled down, with Healy countering brilliantly before Shane O'Leary cross-kicked to Robbie Henshaw who touched down. Healy then put Adeolokun away in similar circumstances to the first try as Grenoble faced a 19-3 deficit despite playing well.

Wisniewski dragged his team back from the brink, scoring a fine try of his own and landing two penalties and a conversion to narrow the gap to three at half-time.

If Connacht were worried, they didn't show it. Healy scorched past Gio Aplon to score and Shane O'Leary stretched the lead out from the tee, but the game turned when Aki conceded a needless penalty which was compounded by Buckley's sin- binning as he illegally prevented Fabrice Estebanez from scoring.

With the prop off the pitch, Grenoble scored two tries through Lucas Dupont and Mahamadou Diaby with Wisniewski nailing the touchline conversion to edge his side in front.

Back came Connacht, with John Cooney nailing a penalty to swing the scoreboard in their favour, but the experienced Wisniewski stayed cool and dropped a goal that ended Connacht's Challenge Cup adventure.

"We wanted to get into the final, we knew if we got to the semi that would be the big one, but unfortunately we just missed out.

"But now we are in a situation where we know that the Pro12 top six is not guaranteed yet mathematically," Lam said.

"We just need one more win to get that and two wins to get a semi, and three wins to get a home semi. That's all we can control, so it's starting with Munster.

"It's another big game. That's the big thing for the development of all of these guys. By playing this sort of rugby, they are going to become better and better rugby players by getting used to playing these sort of games. We've had six on the trot now and we have three to come. We focus now to just go and nail this next week.

"What we are all excited about is we have more seating, even more than we had for the Leinster game. It's pretty close to a sell-out. We have to make sure we recover well and have a good squad available," added Lam.

GRENOBLE - G Aplon; T Nemani, C Farrell, N Hunt (F Estabanez 68), L Dupont; J Wisnieswski, C McLeod; S Taumalolo (F Barcella 54), L Jammes, D Edwards (R de Klerk 54); B Hand (capt), P Kimlin; S Stephano, M Diaby, R Grice (F Alexandre 27).

CONNACHT - M Healy; N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, B Aki, D Poolman (F Carr 39); S O'Leary (P Robb 68), K Marmion (J Cooney 64); D Buckley (R Loughney 78), T McCartney (D Heffernan 72), F Bealham (JP Cooney 76); U Dillane (Q Roux 61), A Browne; S O'Brien (G Naoupu 71), J Connolly (R Loughney 61-71), J Muldoon (capt).

REF - M Carley (England)

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