Wednesday 17 January 2018

Lam: We're top of table on merit


John Fallon

Connacht coach Pat Lam said his men are leading the Guinness Pro12 on merit and that their superb season is down to sheer hard work.

This weekend they lead the way in a mouthwatering top-of-the-table clash with Leinster at a packed Sportsground when, as Lam pointed out this week, the league's top scorers host the side with the best defensive record.

The challenge facing Connacht, though, remains tough as they bid to qualify for the Pro12 semi-finals for the first time. Champions Cup qualification off their own steam for the first time is not yet guaranteed, but they are almost there.

The next three league games, all against Irish opposition, will be revealing but Lam has stressed that they are top on merit and will go into the Leinster game on parity.

The success this season has seen the number of internationals in the Connacht squad rise to nine, but Leinster still have more than three times that amount of capped players to choose from.

Ulster, on St Stephen's Day, are the only side to leave the Sportsground with a win this season and that superb home form has been key to the greatest season in Connacht's history.

"We have worked hard to be here and it's important to understand how we got here. It's just fantastic for Connacht, for the whole province.

"We have always focused on what we do as a collective. We are not a team of individuals," said Lam.

All season Connacht have been rewriting history. They can't change what has gone before but they can, and are, writing their own legacy.

History has shown that Connacht have only won 12 of their 77 league clashes against the Irish provinces, and half of those have been achieved against Leinster. Five of those have been at the Sportsground, including last season's 10-9 victory. Two seasons prior to that Connacht notched their biggest victory over Leinster when they won 34-6.

In between, Leinster scored a double-scores 16-8 win, one of seven successful raids they have made on the Sportsground since the league started.

But times have changed and Connacht lead the table on merit approaching the business end of the season and will confident of taking another big step forward tomorrow.

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