Saturday 17 March 2018

Lam refuses to blame players as 'hurting' Westerners try to 'move on' from Saracens slaughter

Saracens 64 Connacht 6

'We are not proud of that performance,' admits Pat Lam
'We are not proud of that performance,' admits Pat Lam

Alan smith

Having conceded 11 tries without reply, you would have understood if Pat Lam decided to let off some steam when asked about his Connacht players' performance on Saturday. Instead, he appeared almost sympathetic towards them.

He knew they were hurt, their pride was dented after buckling in the face of a very impressive Saracens assault.

Lam was well within his rights to make various budget comparisons afterwards, but there must still have been a gnawing sense that his players had let themselves down.

After a promising campaign, capped by that famous win in Toulouse, to end it with such a limp showing will leave the most bitter of tastes. Missed tackles, handling errors, poor decision-making -- you name the sin, Connacht committed it in a diabolical second half.

Saracens were impressive on their way to a quarter-final place, and bringing a player of Owen Farrell's calibre off the bench, though he was soon taken back off with a cut to his head, highlights the depth at the Premiership leaders' disposal.

But that was no excuse for Connacht's performance. They lacked discipline, and most grating of all, missed an inexcusable 30 tackles.

It was easy to forget by the end of it all that they had led with a quarter of the game played, two Dan Parks penalties putting them 6-5 in front either side of Chris Ashton's first try.

The hour that followed was difficult viewing.

"They are hurting in there," Lam said. "We are not proud of that performance. But that's life, it's what you do from here that matters. We did some good stuff in the first half.

"We are a team that needs to have everything go our way and everyone to do our job. All the little things built up and started to happen... Saracens punished us.

"It wasn't a great day for us, we just have to pick ourselves back up now.

"We don't have the €30m budgets like everyone else, so everything we do is about teamwork and we showed that in Toulouse, but this was a low point. We were destroyed as a team and individuals."

Although Saracens led 13-6, thanks to David Strettle's first try, and looked much stronger, the sin-binning of Connacht's tighthead Nathan White four minutes before half-time for alleged stamping on the head of Brad Baritt in a ruck was critical.

Two tries were scored in his absence, Schalk Brits and Strettle's second extending the Connacht deficit to 23-6 by the time White returned six minutes after the break.

Referee Leighton Hodges could easily have produced a red for White's indescretion after viewing the footage that looped on the big screens either side of the ground.

"It was probably reckless," Lam said, with more than a hint of hesitation in his voice.

"The TMO made the call, but certainly Nathan would not have had any intent in that situation."

If Charlie Hodgson hadn't been so profligate, the damage could have been even uglier. He missed eight of his 11 kicks -- even if other aspects of his play made up for his malfunctioning radar.

The excellent Alex Goode's phenomenal burst of pace helping to seal the bonus point a minute after the restart when his break led to Strettle going over for that second try, before the full-back's magnificent solo effort well and truly opened the floodgates.

With the win needed to extend their European participation out of reach, Connacht's heads dropped. By full-time, they had suffered their biggest Heineken Cup defeat and Saracens had recorded their greatest winning margin.

Chris Wyles, Jackson Wray, George Kruis and Neil de Kock all crossed the line with ease, while further tries from Strettle and Ashton polished off the rout.

"Thirty-odd points came from us trying to play attacking rugby -- we were forced to do that. Saracens can do that to teams when you are playing in your own half." Lam said. "We can't dwell on this, we need to learn from it and we will move on."

Going on the depth of the scars inflicted in north London, it could take quite a while for this result to fade from their memory.

Saracens -- A Goode; C Ashton, D Taylor (C Wyles 52), B Barritt, D Strettle, C Hodgson (O Farrell 59), R Wigglesworth (N de Kock 50); M Vunipola (R Barrington 55), S Brits (J George 50), M Stevens (J Johnston 50); S Borthwick, G Kruis (A Hargreaves 58); B Vunipola, K Brown (J Wray 63), E Joubert.

Connacht -- G Duffy; F Carr (O'Donohoe 63), R Henshaw, E Griffin, M Healy, D Parks (J Carty 50), K Marmion; B Wilkinson (D Buckley 41), S Henry (D Leader 59), N White ( R Ah You 50); M Swift (M Kearney 50), C Clarke; A Browne, J Heenan (G Naoupu 59), J Muldoon.

REF -- L Hodges (Wales).

Irish Independent

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