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Connacht 'deflated' with defeat to Wasps and must now worry over injury toll
Pat Lam rued his side’s failure to score after getting back to within three points in the second half.

Murray Kinsella reports from the Ricoh Arena

PAT LAM SAID Connacht were left “deflated” by the manner of their Champions Cup Pool 2 defeat to Wasps in Coventry.

Particularly frustrating for the western province was getting back to within three points of Wasps at 20-17 with 48 minutes of the game played, only to produce a string of errors and eventually lose on a 32-17 scoreline.

Nepia Fox Matamua, Ultan Dillane, Niyi Adeolokun, JP Cooney and Sean O'Brien dejected after the match Billy Stickland / INPHO Connacht leave Coventry without a match point. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Wasps wrapped up a try-scoring bonus point to take them to the top of the pool before next Saturday’s return clash with Connacht at the Sportground, although Lam’s men lie second in the group with nine points to Wasps’ 12.

Toulouse’s bonus-point victory over Zebre yesterday brings them up to eight match points at the midway stage of the group.

Along with defeat, Connacht now have injury concerns over a crop of key players. Tiernan O’Halloran, Jake Heenan, Cian Kelleher and centre Stacey Ili were all forced off injured in Coventry, while Bundee Aki sustained a heavy blow to the thigh.

“Bundee took a pretty big knee to his thigh, like a haematoma, so he lost feeling initially. A lot of us have had them, but he’s a real trooper and carried on,” said Lam.

“Stacey was ankle, Jack was ankle/knee, Cian Kelleher was hamstring, Tiernan was haematoma – he got a knee when he jumped in the air, right in his hip as well.”

Connacht must now get those players through a shortened window of preparation for the vital second meeting with Wasps at the Sportsground.

“We hope so,” said Lam when asked if those men will be fit. “There’s no doubt that with a six-day turnaround for both teams, our squad is not the same size as theirs, so we’re going to have to have a pretty light week.

“The recovery is going to have to be the most important thing – the clarity, particularly for our learnings, and there’s a few there.”

John Muldoon talks to the his teammates after the match Billy Stickland / INPHO John Muldoon gathers his squad in after defeat. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

As well as patching up those players, Connacht must fix a lineout that cost them dearly in the Ricoh Arena. While Tom McCartney had a frustrating day with his throwing as Connacht won only 64% of their 14 lineouts, the absence of a frontline caller was equally as damaging.

Lock pairing Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux struggled to find space against the aggressive Wasps’ set-piece defence. The fact that James Cannon is cup-tied for clashes with his former club is a frustration, and forwards coach Jimmy Duffy has a big job ahead.

“Andrew Browne is our main lineout caller and he’s injured,” said Lam. “Then Ultan has been away [with Ireland], Quinn’s been sick all week actually, so he didn’t train during the week.

We weren’t allowed to play James Cannon, and James has been running it the last couple of weeks. So it wasn’t as fluid as we would have liked. But I know Jimmy will work with those guys and get it right, because it’s a key part of our game. If you can’t get that ball, it makes it very difficult.”

Lam was pleased with Connacht’s scrum performance, hailing McCartney, Denis Buckley, Conor Carey and Finlay Bealham in that department, but he stressed the need for Connacht to be far better next weekend against “a class side” like Wasps.

Defeat is a setback for Connacht, of course, but Lam and his players understand that opportunity lies ahead, as long as they can cut down their own errors.

“There’s still a long way to go,” said Lam. “The main feeling we have is we’re pretty deflated because of a missed opportunity. We really thought we had a good chance to upset them here and we can’t fault the effort of the boys.

“At 17-20, there was a period of time of 48 minutes to 60 minutes where we had enough opportunities to really put some pressure on, get ahead and come home strong, but we didn’t make the most of it, either through giving ball away, turning ball over, penalties.

“We let them off the hook and they came back strong, and it was from our own turnovers.”

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