Monday 23 July 2018

Connacht will not change their style, insists Lam

European defeat hasn’t deterred Westerners as focus turns to Munster

Connacht coach Pat Lam wants his side to keep taking risks. Picture: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Connacht coach Pat Lam wants his side to keep taking risks. Picture: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

For the majority of coaches, the sight of your out-half cross-kicking the ball on your own line would be the stuff of nightmares, but not for Pat Lam.

With a 19-3 advantage in France, the seemingly sensible option would have been for Shane O'Leary to drop back in the pocket and clear his lines but before he kicked the ball, high up in the stands, Lam had spotted that the risky option was indeed one that was very much viable.

Connacht haven't gotten to where they are without taking risks throughout a thrilling season and although they have come in for criticism for the way in which they lost in Grenoble last Saturday, Lam will continue to insist that his players practise what he preaches in training.

Yesterday in Galway, the Connacht squad were taken through the toughest session of the week ahead of Saturday's crucial Pro12 clash against Munster and they did so under the watchful eye of three of Joe Schmidt's backroom team.

Greg Feek, Simon Easterby and Andy Farrell - now in his second week since beginning his role as Ireland's defence coach - watched on as the Connacht players looked to put last week's disappointment behind them.

Lam will be boosted by the return of out-half Jack Carty but he is likely to stick with O'Leary from the start against Munster.

The news was less positive for Danie Poolman (foot), who is awaiting results of a scan while Jake Heenan (ankle) is rated "touch and go" to feature before the end of the season. Nathan White is continuing through the return to play protocols.

Reflecting on the manner of the defeat to Grenoble, Lam insisted that he would still back his players to deploy the same exit strategies.

"The thing I was really pleased about . . . when I was sitting in the stand, I looked at it and I said 'this is on, this on to go' but unfortunately the wrong kick was kicked by Shane," he said of O'Leary's 31st-minute cross-kick that went out on full.

"If the right kick had gone as we trained it, then we're gone up the sideline with Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki in support and the way their defence was, we would have scored. That's 26-3 so I'm really pleased that the boys had the courage to read the defence the way we trained them.

"Take the example of Ronan O'Gara. When I was with Northampton against Munster and I saw a young Ronan O'Gara; we put a lot of pressure on him and we won the Heineken Cup (2000).

"The lessons he learned from that game. . . he went on to have a fantastic career and won two Heineken Cups. He had a wonderful career on the back of that and became a legend of Irish rugby.

"There's an example of what these guys can do if they're getting a taste earlier than expected because of all our injuries and that's exciting where they're going to be going forward.

"Don't get me wrong, there are lots of people like the Ronan O'Garas who have fallen away. It is about taking those learnings and do what Ronan and other quality players did and go on and have great careers."

'Execution' is very much one of Lam's key messages and he has learned throughout this season that if the players get their roles right, they are a match for any side in the Pro12.

"People ask why Connacht are doing so well and it is because we are a team where everyone has a job to do," Lam explained. "In the collective you have this job to do and when everyone does it we put pressure on and score.

"If the player executes it we score it. If we execute on the defence they don't score. That's why when people wonder why Connacht are going so well when all these guys are injured. It is because guys have a job to do and it makes it very easy.

"It's all based on 'did you get your job right?'. When I was a player all I wanted was absolute clarity. I based my performance not on what people said about my game but about what I needed to do on the field for the team.

"I see it every week because that's our process. Even on the bus back from Grenoble there were emails from the back. Guys that I have mentioned and other guys saying 'I have to work on this'. So this was no different to every other week this year and last year."

Connacht will stick to the script that has gotten them this far. Young players will continue to be given a chance to impress and while they may take risks that don't always come off, they will live and learn under a coach who thrives on seeing them flourish.

"It's great when you see young guys coming through the provinces because sometimes we tend to focus. . . certainly when I arrived in Ireland everything seemed to be focused on what players couldn't do," Lam recalled.

"I said 'well, can I change any of those players?' and the answer was no, so I said 'well, then start telling me what they can do then'. Let's focus on that. How do you get experience? You've got to get out and play and that's what I am excited by.

"I am excited by what some of these young guys will be able to do having not thought they would be in this situation at the start of the season. Injuries or form will dictate if you get the chance, just make sure you take it.

"Connacht is accelerating that process because we have to. We have a lot of young guys coming through here and I am excited about where we are going to be next year and the year after."

Irish Independent

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