Sunday 17 December 2017

Lam still gunning for Champions Cup despite Zebre slip-up

Pat Lam. Photo: Kenny Smith/Sportsfile
Pat Lam. Photo: Kenny Smith/Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Pat Lam says his primary goal is to ensure Connacht are in the Champions Cup next season before he departs in the summer for Bristol.

The Westerners' faltering season took another nosedive at the weekend when they suffered their first ever defeat to Zebre, going down 25-22 in Parma.

And while automatic qualification is still mathematically possible, Connacht's only realistic hope of making it into the Champions Cup next season when new coach Kieran Keane takes over is through the play-offs.

Two Guinness PRO12 sides will be away to the teams in France and England who also finish just outside the automatic slot, with the winners of those two play-off games then battling it out for the final spot in the Champions Cup.

"The goal is the Champions Cup. It's all about getting into the Champions Cup for next year," said Lam.

"You are just disappointed to lose to Zebre. But for me it's never about who you play. When you know that you had the opportunity to win games, that's more disappointing.

Truth hurts

"It was one of the easiest reviews in my time here. It was pretty obvious why we lost the game. It was probably tough to go through it but the truth hurts.

"Zebre didn't have much possession but they took their chances. They probably had four chances and they took three of them, and we had about 15 genuine chances and we took three of them too."

Connacht clash with Edinburgh on Friday at Myreside, and Ireland internationals Kieran Marmion and Tiernan O'Halloran will be back available, after they were rested last week due to IRFU player welfare reasons.

And Lam thinks their return will be a huge boost for his side as they look to change their fortunes and get some momentum ahead of the Champions Cup play-offs.

"Both of them hadn't had a break in a long time, so they were overdue their break. It's good they got a chance to rest. It wasn't just mentally, they were both really physically beat," said Lam.

"The stronger we are the better we are and that's always the case. It brings more competition when you get players back."

If Connacht do qualify for the Champions Cup, they will be competing for a place in a ground-breaking final after Bilbao was chosen as the destination for European rugby's showpiece next season.

Athletic Bilbao's San Mamés stadium will host the final in 2018, with Newcastle United's St James' Park the venue for the decider in 2019.

Irish Independent

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