Lam insists 'aggressive' Henshaw ready to make step up for Six Nations
Pat Lam may be hedging his bets on whether to give youth another fling in London next weekend, but he is backing Robbie Henshaw for a role in Ireland's looming Six Nations campaign.
Lam was left frustrated by Saturday's profligacy against Zebre, Connacht coughing up a number of rudimentary try-scoring opportunities that ultimately cost them what should have been a bonus-point victory over the Italian side.
The coach's decision, for the second week running, to field an all-Irish back division with an average age of just 22, was broadly applauded in the province, representing as it did a bold investment in Connacht's future.
But Lam seemed to hint on Saturday evening that a strategic rethink might be in order for next Saturday's daunting trip to Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens.
Connacht's Pool 3 campaign has already accumulated the most Heineken Cup points (13) in their history and, despite a quarter-final place remaining a long shot, Lam was bullish about their chances.
"Realistically, we're right there," he said, albeit conceding that that hope depended upon Toulouse beating Saracens in the south of France yesterday, which they did, 21-11.
But the failure to accrue a bonus point during the course of their seventh consecutive victory over Zebre highlighted a conspicuous lack of composure in Connacht's finishing. In Lam's view, a repeat in London next weekend will condemn his team to certain failure.
"They're aggressive, they're in your face," he said of the English pace-setters. "Some of the things that we could get away with (against Zebre), you won't get away with next week.
"There's a clear, structured game plan that you need to play against that team, which is what got us the chance where we should have won last time in the game at home (Connacht narrowly lost their opening pool game against Saracens in Galway).
"And part of that is the quality of your kicking game. Again tonight, same as the last night (against Leinster in the Pro12), right across the board it was pretty inaccurate.
"We kicked recklessly, it wasn't in the right place and we gave ball away at crucial times. That's an area we've got to spend a lot of time on this week too.
"You expect guys to go through and do their jobs, so I think everyone's pretty disappointed."
Henshaw marked another impressive performance in Saturday's victory with his first ever Heineken Cup try, and the 20-year-old continues to put himself very much in the frame as a possible long-term replacement for Brian O'Driscoll in the Ireland team.
Lam is unequivocal in his view that the kid is already of international quality.
"Time is needed to settle in that position (outside-centre)," he reflected of Henshaw.
"We've made some slight adjustments, particularly on his defence lines, to suit his aggressive, in-the-face sort of style and it paid off.
"He knows he's just like Jack (Carty) and Darragh (Leader) and the rest of them, he's still got a lot of development to go.
"More game time is helping him and, hopefully, he'll get a chance in the internationals coming up too. I believe he's ready for that.
"I thought last week particularly against, you know, the legend (O'Driscoll) he did well. And again tonight. He got a lot of confidence out of that and tonight he has another game under his belt."
Asked if Henshaw represented a 'pure' No 13 Lam replied: "No, no, no. He's too young to be that. I think it's 13 or 15.
"The best 13s in the world, they're like wine. Maturity is around 28, 29 or 30. So it's all about time to settle.
"He's just doing it a lot faster than people his age and that's the talent that he has."