Monday 19 August 2019

Pat Lam: Unique Siberia trip is an ideal time to test our mettle

Connacht's Craig Ronaldson finds his way blocked by Tommaso Iannone and Andrea Pratichetti during last weekend's win over Benetton Treviso at the Sportsground
Connacht's Craig Ronaldson finds his way blocked by Tommaso Iannone and Andrea Pratichetti during last weekend's win over Benetton Treviso at the Sportsground

Pat Lam

It's our third day in Russia and we feel settled ahead of the game tomorrow. After a long journey that started on Tuesday night from Shannon airport, we arrived in Krasnoyarsk at about midday on Wednesday.

The purpose of our early morning training sessions in Ireland was to prepare us for the time difference and to get the boys' body clocks as close to Russia time as possible. While we were all tired when we got here, we made sure we saw some daylight and stayed up as long as possible.

We had some lunch and a small rest before we headed off to a nearby indoor facility for our first training session. It was very light with the main focus around stretching out the long travel and a walk-through clarity of our game. Everyone slept well that night.

It was awesome to explore our surroundings on Thursday morning and get a feel for the place. It's a first time in Russia for everyone in our travelling party so we were interested to see what it was about. We hope everyone has been enjoying the videos and pictures online.

It's an historic trip so we wanted to try give our supporters an insight into the few days over here.

We had our first outdoor session yesterday and then we'll have the captain's run at Central Stadium this afternoon. It's a pretty impressive stadium on the edge of the Yenisei river. We've been told the club are expecting up to 20,000 supporters as it's their first game in the European competition.

At the end of the day, we want to do well in this competition. It's another avenue to Champions Cup rugby, so we will target this game for a win like all the others. A lot of talk has been around the temperatures which could hit as low as -20 degrees Celsius. It's been cold, there's no doubt about that but without the wind it's a different type of cold than maybe -20 would feel in Galway. The under-turf heating at the stadium should help and we're expecting a dry day so I expect it to be an open game of rugby.

In the lead up to this game, we've spoken a lot about the opportunity to improve our 'mental toughness', dealing with the long journey, the climate, the time difference, and playing in Russia.

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We know these things will be a challenge but it's our mental attitude that will get us through it and I've been really impressed already to see how the players have embraced the challenge so far. I believe it will hold them in good stead for the challenges we'll face this season.

While it was difficult to do a lot of homework on Enisei, we do have some experience of playing them as they've been over the last few years to play our A side, the Connacht Eagles. Some of our players have experience coming up against them and we know to expect a physical battle up front. But we know, too that they are a team that have improved their skills in recent years and they won't be afraid to move the ball around. It's going to be an interesting clash.


When we had looked at the schedule of fixtures and this trip in particular, the ideal scenario for us was to have two starting teams for the Enisei and Brive games. Unfortunately, that became impossible for us with the number of injures picked up - particularly last week against Treviso when we had another four guys to add to the list. Of our 41-man registered squad for Europe, we only had 28 to choose from this week. We have six young academy players with us - probably our highest representation - and two of them, Peter Robb and Sean O'Brien, are uncapped. They have both been training with us since pre-season and we knew their first opportunity was not far away. There's a good buzz around with those guys and others excited to get their opportunity.

With big trips like these, you also need your experienced heads. We are going to face a tough, physical battle against Enisei tomorrow in hostile conditions and the likes of John Muldoon, George Naoupu, Aly Muldowney and Denis Buckley - they will need to lead from the front.

Our plan for this game is to play at a high tempo and put Enisei's defence under pressure and our own defence to pressurise their skill level. Despite all the different elements this week, as a squad we're very excited to play in this historic event.

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