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'Ireland was right behind us' - Lam feels the support for classy Connacht

The western province’s head coach wants his inexperienced side to learn from their defeat in Grenoble.

CONNACHT MOST CERTAINLY won themselves a few more new fans on Saturday night, even as their latest show of scintillating attack saw them come up just short against Grenoble in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

The Connacht team dejected after the game Connacht were left dejected in Grenoble. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Rarely does a side score 32 points and lose, but Pat Lam’s free-running westerners did so against Bernard Jackman’s prolific Grenoble outfit, who needed a late Jonathan Wisniewski drop goal to get over the line with a total of 33 points of their own.

In truth, it was no surprise to see Connacht ripping it up in such a manner, this performance merely being a continuation of the attacking quality we have seen from them all season.

Their positive, exciting and largely successful approach has made them many people’s  second side and, as captain John Muldoon pointed out last week, is bringing a whole new crop of supporters to the Sportsground and Connacht’s away trips.

You’d have to venture that any neutrals who tuned in to watch Connacht on Saturday night will be eager to get another opportunity to see Lam’s men in action.

“I think the big one is our support is just tremendous and we are feeding off each other,” said Lam after the defeat at Stade des Alpes, “and it’s not just the Connacht supporters.

“This week I had a lot of messages from Leinster, Ulster and Munster supporters; it’s fantastic. We spoke about it before the game that Ireland was right behind us, and that’s a really good feeling. It’s just a shame that we don’t have the semi-final to come at home. I think the number one thing is I’m glad people are enjoying it, but more important the boys enjoy the way we are playing.”

This is a young Connacht side, with Saturday’s defeat showing their inexperienced edge, particularly with injuries cutting into their depth chart in key positions. While Grenoble showed composure to build their winning drop goal, Connacht made game management and kicking errors throughout.

Pat Lam and  Bernard Jackman Lam with Bernard Jackman at Stade des Alpes. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Shane O’Leary, the fourth-choice out-half, made a sublime cross-field kick for Robbie Henshaw’s try in the first half, but crucially kicked out on the full once and put restarts directly into touch twice.

The visit to Grenoble will have been an important learning experience for O’Leary and many others who made mistakes under the pressure.

“I think the biggest thing for a lot of these guys, you know James Connolly came up to me afterwards and apologised that he didn’t shut the gate down for that try just before half time [by Wisniewski], “ said Lam. 

“I said, ‘Just learn from it. You don’t need to apologise, just take how you’re annoyed when we lost and use that when we win too. Always go to improve your game and if we get that right, we’ll be ok.’

“Denis [Buckley] is apologising for the yellow card and I just said, ‘Go and learn from it.’ If we learn from it, it’s not a problem. It’s only an issue if we don’t learn from it.’

“We got a couple of good leads and we let them back in just through a couple of errors. That’s probably our big learning we can take; to keep the foot on the throat. There was a try that we had worked, one guy was in the wrong place, if he was in the right place we were under the sticks. Just a few little things, but we’ll get that right for next week.”

Now, Connacht commit fully to attempting to make history in the Guinness Pro12.

Their regular season run-in continues with the visit of Munster to Galway on Saturday night, with Anthony Foley’s side desperate to keep their campaign for Champions Cup qualification on track.

John Muldoon shakes hands with fans after the game John Muldoon acknowledges the Connacht fans. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I think Mul [John Muldoon] spoke about it out on the field and said it again in the changing room, ‘Now this is gone and we can’t change it,’” said Lam.

“We focus now to just go and nail this next week, Munster. What we are all excited about is we have more seating [at the Sportsground], it’s even more than we had for the Leinster game. The crowd, I think it’s pretty close to sell out. It’s something really exciting to get back to.”

Munster are, of course, gunning for revenge too, having been beaten by Connacht at Thomond Park in December.

When we beat them down in Thomond Park they had a full strength team minus Conor Murray and they were [talking about] physicality and everything,” said Lam.

“We have now played so many games when teams are gunning after us and we have come through and we have just got to do this again this week.”

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Murray Kinsella

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