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'Traditionally 20 gets you there' - Connacht have shot at quarter-final

Wasps head coach Dai Young was surprised Connacht were allowed to go to the corner at the death.
Dec 19th 2016, 8:25 AM 7,098 7

IMPORTANT INTER-PROVINCIAL clashes against Ulster and Munster lie ahead for Connacht in the next 12 days, but the western province’s stunning late win over Wasps on Saturday night means they can look into January with their Champions Cup hopes still very much alive.

Jack Carty’s winning conversion means Connacht are right in the hunt for a first-ever quarter-final place, with a home clash against Zebre and an away tie with Toulouse still to come.

Naulia Dawai celebrates scoring a late try with John Muldoon Naulani Dawai celebrates his late try in Galway. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Wasps, Toulouse and Connacht are all currently on 13 match points in Pool 2, leaving it all to play for in January.

“The main thing is job done, we’re still alive, it’s in our control,” said Lam after the dramatic win over Wasps in front of 8,090 people at the Sportsground.

The Connacht head coach appears to be expecting a 1pm kick-off against Zebre on 14 or 15 January, although the fixtures are yet to be officially confirmed.

“I pushed hard and thankfully we have got the one o’clock kick off and hopefully our beautiful weather kicks in,” said Lam. “We have always done well against Zebre because we put a lot of respect in them, but we are going to have to raise the tempo.

“We know we have to get five points from that game and really crank it up because it is going to be neck and neck and we’ll see what happens with Wasps-Toulouse. That will determine what we have to do in Toulouse.

“The most important thing is we are alive and it is a great pool.”

Lam believes that another seven match points should guarantee Connacht a quarter-final spot, although obviously they will need to finish in the top two in the pool to advance.

“I think traditionally 20 gets you there definitely,” said Lam. “18, 19 is a chance, but the main thing is you need to finish second.

Pat Lam celebrates after the game Connacht are happy they can control their destiny. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“The Wasps-Toulouse game is a big one which will determine what we have to do, what we have to go and get. It’s a wonderful competition, I am just thankful we are in there.”

Meanwhile, Wasps’ director of rugby Dai Young was understandably disappointed to leave the Sportsground without victory, although he was gracious in defeat.

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He praised his players’ efforts and refused to openly criticise replacement referee Mathieu Raynal for allowing Connacht to kick a penalty to touch and take the lineout after time had elapsed, a decision which EPCR has since stressed was incorrect.

“I thought it had gone 80 minutes, to be quite honest,” said Young in Galway on Saturday night. ”We’ll have a look at that, but the script was written, wasn’t it?

“When it was kicked to touch, it always looked like they were going to get the drive over and they were always going to kick the conversion. We’ll have a look at whether the penalty was just before or just after, but I don’t think that [new law] is in yet, is it?”

While Wasps will bemoan their missed opportunity – they were turned over by Niyi Adeolokun in the dying seconds – there is a positive in the fact that they took six match points from the back-to-back ties with Connacht, whereas the Irish province managed only four.

It leaves the Premiership side in pole position to go on and top the pool in January, but Young is taking nothing for granted ahead of the visit of Toulouse to Coventry.

“It’s all on, isn’t it?” said the former Wales international on Saturday. “We’ve got a positive out of these head-to-heads, with a 6-4 aggregate, so if it came to us being on the same points [with Connacht], we’ve got that.

Connacht players celebrate with winning goal kicker Jack Carty This Connacht team will keep believing. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“It’s a massive game for us, Toulouse at home. If we can beat Toulouse at home, it makes the head-to-head against Toulouse in our favour, as we’ve already got the one against Connacht in our favour.

“You’d like to think then that we’ve done enough really, but with Toulouse still in the mix as well they’re going to come all guns blazing as well.

“There’s plenty to play for. We’re in a decent position, but it’s all to do.”

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