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'You can't just throw €400k or €500k on people' - Lam backs Connacht to rebound

A trip to Zebre is up next as Connacht look to move on from a nightmare Pro12 start.

Dave Heffernan and John Muldoon: Connacht collapsed in the last 10 minutes against the Ospreys.
Dave Heffernan and John Muldoon: Connacht collapsed in the last 10 minutes against the Ospreys.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

ON PAPER, IT has been the worst possible start to Connacht’s Pro12 title defence.

Two home games. Two defeats. Two bonus points for the opposition.

Saturday’s 32-11 loss to the Ospreys was tough to swallow, not least because Connacht still held a narrow lead inside the final quarter before shipping three late tries to their visitors.

But if there’s any temptation to reach for the panic button, head coach Pat Lam certainly isn’t showing it.

“I’m really pleased that in some areas where we were poor last week, there was a big improvement this week,” Lam explained as a deflated Sportsground emptied out on Saturday night.

“You can’t take away the fact we were playing two teams who were really hungry, two teams who were virtually full-strength, minus just Alan Wyn Jones and Dan Biggar.

We went toe-to-toe. There were just a couple of moments in those last nine minutes which killed us.

After shipping their heaviest home defeat in 13 years on the opening weekend against Glasgow, Connacht were desperate to bounce back in emphatic fashion.

And while that didn’t happen, the one-sided scoreline, with Ospreys piling on 19 points in the final 10 minutes, was no reflection of a contest that close for long spells.

“One thing I was looking for was body language,” Lam explained.

“Last week we had a lot of guys with hands on hips, looking tired. And even if you are tired, you can never show tired. You have to bring energy.

“A lot of that was improved. The detail is in my head and I will highlight things that went well and didn’t. That’s always how we worked.”

Pat Lam and  Steve Tandy Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With Saturday’s trip to Zebre assuming even more importance now, Lam is happy that the process is in place to steer Connacht back to the right course without heads dropping.

“Everyone will react the way they do. The main thing is that we go through the process of understanding of how you get better.

“There are things there we’ll keep alright, but also what’s not so well, and how do we improve it and have the plan and work through it.

You don’t get better by hoping or wishing. It’s about getting better to put the work back in.

“For some guys who made the mistakes, they are the angriest or the most disappointed when they do make those mistakes. As a coach, all I want to see is that they understand it and they recognise it and they are self-aware.”

He added: “Some guys will kick a bin, some guys will sit down and some guys will mope for ages.

“You’ll see videos of people and the way they react but the key thing as a coach is the process. You allow them to go through that moment but if we want to get better, we have to understand what we have to get better at and then you get the plan and you work on it.”

Many have pointed to Connacht’s pre-season as a contributing factor in this poor start to the Pro12 campaign. The westerners faced Montpellier in France in August, but had other friendly fixtures cancelled.

That left them playing Ulster Bank League side Clontarf and Sale in behind-closed-doors training games, hardly ideal preparation for defending a Pro12 trophy.

“We were relaxed because we couldn’t control it,” said Lam of that issue. “We had three games set in place; they got cancelled so we were chasing. There was no point in me coming out with ‘poor us.’ There’s no point in us crying about it. It is what it is.

Tyler Ardron scores his sides second try Connacht are off to a poor start. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We had to get on with it. It wasn’t ideal. Every season I’ve been here, we’ve had a minimum of three games. To have one wasn’t ideal.”

The attendance figure at the Sportsground on Saturday evening slipped to 5,479 after 6,107 paid to watch the season opener against Glasgow, but Lam stressed that these totals represent improvement.

“It was bigger than we ever had for the first two games – that is the way I see it, I’m not a half-empty guy. Look at the weather we had and the facilities.

“It’s the highest they’ve been. At the end of last season, why were they high? We’re talking about crowds coming in April or May. If we do the business, the crowds will come. The numbers we’re getting are far better than we ever did.”

Danie Poolman was forced off the pitch during the defeat to the Ospreys for a Head Injury Assessment, as Connacht’s injury list continues to be of major concern to Lam.

Almost 20 players missed the clash with the Welsh region due to injury, with Lam having only three fit second rows to choose from.

Munster have reacted to injury issues by bringing in Springbok international Jaco Taute, but Lam says Connacht are not in a position to do something similar.

There’s always opportunities but you need money,” said Lam. “Some of the money that some of them are asking for… it’s not a problem for people coming in but we’re number twelfth [in the Pro12] when it comes to resources.

“It’s no different to what I was talking about before around the pre-season. We have what we have and we’ll work hard to get those guys up to speed and more importantly for us as a team. Our whole cohesion is something we’ll work on.

“You can’t just throw €400k or €500k on people. You can’t do that. Some teams can. Some teams can’t. You weigh that all up. We’re not that sort of team. We never have been.”

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Niall Kelly

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