Tony Ward: Free-spirited Connacht have brought my love affair with rugby back to life
Lam deserves all the plaudits for the province’s transformation into genuine Pro12 contenders
In a rugby era of moronic cliches my favourite quote, since the game went professional, comes from Connacht coach Pat Lam. Paraphrasing it at its most simple, what he maintains is that "the boys know I cannot stand running straight into people. They know I expect some expression. I expect us to have options".
To be fair, he is not the first missionary from south of the zero line that has tried to address the braindead tactics employed by most in this part of the world. Joe Schmidt cut his early cloth to the needs of the golden generation of Leinster and Ireland backs when guiding the province to double Heineken Cup success via the most adventurous route imaginable while Rob Penney fought a losing battle in his attempt to inculcate cultural change down south with Munster.
But with respect to Schmidt, to Penney, and to every other coach who has gone before and since, what Lam has brought about in Connacht has a magic and an appeal all of its own. The groundwork was laid by one Eric Elwood - and let no one forget that - but since Lam took control he has built on the heart of rugby west of the Shannon. Remember his early insistence on the use of the Irish language when meeting and greeting at training, for example. On such tiny acorns do mighty oak trees grow.
On Saturday, as I stood in the Clan Terrace, I felt the goosebumps and shivers run up my spine. I wasn't the only non-native in the Sportsground wanting the home team to win and I make no apologies for any lack of impartiality.
There are no medals handed out in March or no doors yet open to next season's Champions Cup but to watch this group of Connacht players play rugby the proper way, the Lam way, so "full of expression", is special.
A little over a year ago, on the way to retaining our Six Nations title, I came away from Lansdowne Road, having just beaten the French (for only the third time in 15 attempts), utterly depressed at what I had just witnessed in the name of rugby.
It was 80 minutes of what Lam accurately described as "people running into people" but because we boxed-kicked better, kick-chased better, defended better and landed more points than them, a lot of green-clad folk left that ground content. It added to the desperation.
'Is this what the game is now about?' kept echoing in my mind. I could see no way out until New Zealand, Australia and Argentina lit the way in September and October only to be followed by Super Rugby since its relaunch just over a month ago.
Add to that Connacht rugby at the top of the Pro12 and also being the only Irish team still in European competition, albeit with a tough away trek to Bernard Jackman, Mikey Prendergast and Greenoble in the last eight of the Challenge Cup.
My only fear, and I expressed it here in Saturday's preview, was of tactical naivety.
I don't like calling it winning ugly because Connacht, as currently constituted, don't do 'ugly'. But there are times in any season when elements and needs dictate tactics.
Although Kieran Marmion, in particular, and AJ MacGinty played exceptionally well, I felt a meagre seven-point lead at the break, given the strength of the gale-force wind blowing towards the College Road end, was nowhere near enough.
There was the occasional long-range kick for territory but nowhere near appropriate for the elements.
It seemed at least a 10 or a 12-point wind and with such a loaded bench you felt Leinster would eke out the minimum of three kickable penalties after the break.
But this is where the 'train as you play, play as you train' principle applies. The second 40 minutes, into the teeth of the Sportsground howler, was a joy to behold with the "expression" in ball retention and in frustrating the opposition into defeat.
A huge psychological barrier was overcome in beating Leinster in a top-of-the-table clash when the demands of the occasion and extraordinary support made for little, if any, alternative.
And when it comes to leaders this is a team, and a squad, full of them but it is the loosening of the shackles that has encouraged on-field leadership through individual and collective expression.
Winning is imperative and there is little point in pretending otherwise, but press me as to which of the four provinces I enjoy watching most and it's Connacht by a country mile.
In individual terms Marmion was outstanding; a performance epitomised by his never-give-up chase for Niyi Adeolokun's kick ahead and the match-winning try when added to by MacGinty's vital conversion. That came in the 14th minute and despite not scoring again for the next 66 minutes, they limited Leinster to just two successful kicks at goal. That was some achievement, some performance, some team.
Adeolokun, Tiernan O'Halloran, MacGinty, and most particularly Bundee Aki, were standouts behind the scrum as was Robbie Henshaw upon his second-half introduction.
You can take your pick from the forwards, with Denis Buckley (a banker to move up to the next level), Tom McCartney, Aly Muldowney, Sean O'Brien and Eoin McKeon (despite the occasional blip in passing precision). But where would Connacht be without John Muldoon? If ever a player wore his heart on his sleeve in every game, it's Muldoon.
Muldoon is the heart and soul of this transformation but let nobody underplay the role of Lam in the Sportsground revolution.
If a coach is willing to trust his instinct, and his players, anything is possible. They are a pleasure to watch and are restoring my faith in this great game.