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Connacht coach Pat Lam 'so proud' after thrilling Toulouse win

The New Zealander says he never lost faith after a string of Pro12 defeats.

Connacht coach Pat Lam gives the thumbs up after watching his side win 16-14 in France.
Connacht coach Pat Lam gives the thumbs up after watching his side win 16-14 in France.
Image: INPHO/Billy Stickland

JOHN MULDOON AND Pat Lam came out with their hands up after Connacht lost 43-10 to Edinburgh last weekend.

The former captain and coach admitted the side’s efforts had fallen far short of the expected standards. The fans, travelling and watching at home, got an apology and a vow Connacht would show pride in the jersey against Toulouse.

“No doubt players at home and fans will be wondering what happened and it’s down to us to fix it,” Muldoon declared. “No one else will fix it except the players that walk out on to the pitch.”

That pride was evident for all to see at the Stade Ernest Wallon yesterday as the Irish province deservedly beat the four-time Heineken Cup champions 16-14. Muldoon vacated the three-way captaincy, introduced by Lam, in favour of a singular voice.

The man chosen to lead Connacht forward was Craig Clarke, who led the Waikato Chiefs to two Super Rugby titles in a row. While Clarke was immense — 18 tackles, five lineout claims — in Connacht’s shock win over the Top 14 side, Muldoon’s performance was nothing short of heroic. He put in an eye-popping 21 tackles and hunted breakdown ball like a jackal with 20-year-old über-prospect Jake Heenan at his side.

imageDeposed Connacht captains Michael Swift and John Muldoon soak up a memorable victory in France. INPHO/Billy Stickland

“He is a local lad and it means a hell of a lot for him when he pulls on that jersey,” said former teammate Adrian Flavin of Muldoon before kick-off. The Galwegian backed up his strong words with a powerhouse outing that gave his side a fighting chance.

The win was sweet relief for Connacht coach Pat Lam after his methods were questioned as seriously slow-burning. Harrowing defeats to Leinster and Saracens proved his team could mix it with the best but those results, and two wins over Zebre, were high points. The low moments were meek away defeats to Cardiff and Edinburgh.

Yesterday, Connacht proved they are not just a team that can test the elite on home turf. Lam said that while their record this season was woeful in terms of results he had always retained faith in the team. He said:

Each match this season we have had a chance to win but let it slip away,” said the 45-year-old. Thus, we had self-belief and that was reflected in our performance. We had hopes for this match but it was based on everyone doing their job which they did and is why I am so proud of this win.

“We knew that Toulouse and Connacht are not on the same level, but we knew we were making progress.”

Toulouse general manager Guy Noves bemoaned several missed opportunities at the beginning of the match and said the result could have long term ramifications.

“This defeat wipes out the benefits accrued from our victory over Saracens,” said Noves. ”It doesn’t eliminate us from the competition but it does pose questions as to whether we will qualify.

“We know Connacht will play with the same passion and fervour next weekend. I just hope Toulouse will be a different team,” added the former French national coach.

– Additional reporting © AFP 2013

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