'That's what makes these guys stronger, that's what Connacht's about'

Pat Lam was pleased his players delivered work rate after a difficult week out west.

Murray Kinsella reports from the Ricoh Arena

AND SO A difficult week for Connacht ended in defeat in Coventry, with Wasps claiming a bonus point in their 32-17 success to move to the top of Pool 2 of the Champions Cup.

The Connacht team huddle Connacht remain a united group. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The announcement of Pat Lam’s departure arrived on Monday, with the fallout rumbling all the way through the week leading up to yesterday’s clash with Wasps.

In the end, Connacht did turn up to play – in terms of effort at least. They were deeply frustrated that their own errors in handling, in contact and at the lineout allowed Wasps to prosper, but the work rate was certainly there.

Any fears that the announcement of Lam’s exit would lead to decreased motivation – always an unlikely scenario – were quashed.

“Without a doubt, that’s what this team is made of,” said Lam yesterday in Coventry.

“A lot of people talk about Toulouse three years ago giving us an insight into what we can do, but the one that showed me was the last time we played a 1pm game in England was Saracens where it highlighted how much work we needed to do and how far we’ve come [Connacht lost 64-6 that day in 2014].

“Back then, we didn’t have absolute clarity on how we needed to play; we didn’t have the collective culture we have now to deal with adversity. It wasn’t that individuals wanted to give up, but as a group we just gave way.

“We’ve come a long way since then. When you get all sorts of things – not just this week – but right through the time I’ve been here, that’s what makes these guys stronger, that’s what Connacht’s about.

“So, it didn’t surprise me at all that we came in on Tuesday and the boys trained well all week. The effort they give is always huge, it’s just some execution stuff that we’ll tidy up and we’ll get better. I’m really excited about next week.”

Oddly enough, it’s the fact that Connacht’s error count was so high yesterday that they have confidence about bouncing back against Wasps in Galway on Saturday.

Ultan Dillane ,Sean O'Brien, Rory Parata, Finlay Bealham, JP Cooney and Matt Healy dejected after the match Connacht left Coventry with nothing. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

A six-day turnaround is a challenge, particularly after fresh injuries to Tiernan O’Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Jake Heenan, Stacey Ili and Bundee Aki, but Lam and his players feel everything is fixable in that short time frame.

“We let ourselves down, especially in their 22. We certainly had enough chances,” said scrum-half Kieran Marmion, who was excellent in Coventry.

“We need to look back at that and obviously try and fix it for next week. There is big confidence there that we can definitely take them next week. We will go back and try and fix what didn’t go right.

The position we were in around 50 or 60 minutes [with the game at 20-17 in Wasps' favour], even at half-time we were fairly confident we can push on and win the game. We put ourselves in a good position. It was just the last 15 minutes it got away from us a little bit.”

Connacht sit second in Pool 2 on nine points, with Wasps having moved to the front on 12 points. Toulouse are back in the race after a bonus-point win over Zebre that brought them onto eight match points in total.

While Lam and his squad will carry the frustration of a missed opportunity into their training week, there is also an awareness that their prospects of qualifying for the quarter-finals remain very much alive.

“We have to re-group and there is no doubt next week is crucial,” said Lam. “I said before the game, if we win one we have got a great chance of getting through; if we win two we are through.

“We get home, get in front of our crowd and dust ourselves down, get ourselves back. If we can get a win next week we are right back into it again.”

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