Wednesday 25 April 2018

Lam: 'Last season is well and truly over' Connacht boss vows to bounce back

Connacht 5 Glasgow 41

Kieran Marmion is tackled by Sila Puafisi, left, and Jonny Gray Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Kieran Marmion is tackled by Sila Puafisi, left, and Jonny Gray Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

They haven't had a Monday morning review session like this one for quite some time at the Sportsground.

Connacht's fans have endured plenty of difficult nights in the days before they were competing for titles, but not since Pontypridd in 2002 have they seen their team beaten by this much at home in the league.

These are the sorts of days that they thought they'd put behind them by clinching the Guinness Pro12 in May, yet a slick and powerful Glasgow Warriors side reminded them that past performance is no guarantee with a six-try-to-one shellacking.

Pat Lam had to go back to his first year to recall a similarly one-sided defeat and he was quick to remind us that his side had responded to a heavy loss to Edinburgh by beating Toulouse away from home a week later.

A similar response is required and the schedule offers a chance at home town redemption as Ospreys arrive to a venue where Connacht lost just once last season.

Lam cut a calm figure in the aftermath, claiming that it was a series of small things that went wrong rather than a systematic regression.

The champions refused to use their truncated pre-season as an excuse, but they lacked their normal cohesion and made an embarrassing number of handling errors. Uncharacteristically, their option-taking was off, while their defence was a long way short of the required standard.

Having finished last season with successive defeats in Galway, Glasgow were far sharper.

Niyi Adeolokun scores his side's first try of the match despite the attempted tackle by Henry Pyrgos Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Niyi Adeolokun scores his side's first try of the match despite the attempted tackle by Henry Pyrgos Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Jonny Gray and Stuart Hogg got the season of Lions speculation rolling with brilliant displays, while Connacht couldn't handle new recruit Leonardo Sarto. Leinster, who travel to the 4G pitch at Scotstoun next weekend, have been warned that the 2015 champions want their title back.

Although the feel-good factor generated by the league win had been deflated, Lam won't push the panic button just yet.

"We knew one game last year wasn't going to win us the championship and one game this year isn't going to lose it," he said.


"We don't become a bad team overnight, but it does highlight that if you're not quite on our game and you're playing a quality side like Glasgow, then you'll come undone.

"I'm excited by the learnings that we're going to get out of this; it's the sort of learnings that we never really had in pre-season.

"When you get those sort of games - we were thumped by Grenoble last year - you get those opportunities (to learn); it's up to us to make the most of it.

"We can't just turn around and think it's going to happen, we've to make sure we do the work tonight, tomorrow, Monday and come back.

"We're disappointed for our fans, it was a great turnout.

"I will say this, it's disappointing when you see people leave early and that's our own fault, but there's a lot of pride when people are still chanting 'Connacht' as we came off; kids are high-fiving us and we will be back."

Given the Ospreys ran up 59 points against Zebre on Friday night, it appears that Connacht will need to be at their best on Saturday night.

Bundee Aki is tackled by Peter Horne Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki is tackled by Peter Horne Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Peter Robb is likely to miss out after being stretchered off late on, but Lam gave a positive update on the centre's head injury and said he was up and walking back in the dressing-room after a sickening collision.

He will hope that the injury crisis that afflicted his squad this week alleviates somewhat, but will look for more from his fit players this week.

The first-half performance will give the coach reason for optimism; they attacked with their customary threat and caused the Warriors problems, but the home side still found themselves 13-5 down at the break after conceding a Tommy Seymour brace that will feature heavily in the analysis room.

Niyi Adeolokun scored the hosts' only try but there should have been at least one more had Bundee Aki put Cian Kelleher away instead of taking contact.

Despite a calm and measured half-time address, the home side never got going in the second half.

Poor discipline gave the visitors the field position to send Hogg over for a well-worked try, and as Connacht chased the game, the error count rose and Glasgow capitalised by scoring three more tries through Tim Swinson, Silo Puafisi and Sean Lamont to silence the Sportsground.

Winning the title is one thing, defending it is a completely different challenge.

"We know everyone's after us," Lam said. "That's well and truly done now. But the good thing is that last year is well and truly over.

"That's a great example of what happens when we're not quite right.

"Everyone is hungry to beat us. You saw the hunger of Glasgow. That hunger comes on the back of a little bit of pain from last season.

"We've got a bit of pain now and I'm pretty sure our hunger will be there next week. Sorry, will be improved."

It wasn't all bad; Finlay Bealham was outstanding in the first half, while Kelleher had a highly promising debut and will only improve as he gets to know his team-mates.

Yet the focus this week will be on fixing the myriad of defensive malfunctions and handling errors. This can't become a habit.

CONNACHT - C Kelleher; N Adeolokun, E Griffin (P Robb 55), B Aki, M Healy; J Carty (S O'Leary 66), C Blade (K Marmion 48); D Buckley (R Loughney 50), T McCartney (D Heffernan 61), F Bealham (JP Cooney 61); U Dillane (L Stevenson 61), D Qualter; E McKeon, N Fox-Matamua, J Muldoon (capt) (J Connolly 73).

GLASGOW WARRIORS - S Hogg (S Lamont 61); L Sarto, A Dunbar, S Johnson, T Seymour; P Horne (R Clegg 64), H Pyrgos (A Price 69); G Reid (R Grant 50), P MacArthur (C Flynn 50), Z Fagerson (S Puafisi 50); T Swinson (T Uanivi 69), J Gray; R Harley, S Favaro (L Wynne 64), R Wilson (L Wynne 18-27).

Ref - I Davies (Wales)

Irish Independent

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