Connacht must regroup and prepare for less glamorous fixtures

Captain Craig Clarke thrilled by level of support for visit of Toulouse

Connacht’s Jake Heenan makes a break, supported by Mick Kearney, Craig Clarke, John Muldoon and Jason Harris-Wright. Photo: Inpho/James Crombie

Connacht’s Jake Heenan makes a break, supported by Mick Kearney, Craig Clarke, John Muldoon and Jason Harris-Wright. Photo: Inpho/James Crombie

Mon, Dec 16, 2013, 01:00

The trick for Connacht now will be to re-group for less glamorous fixtures and begin to climb

off the bottom of the table, starting with Saturday’s game at home to the Dragons and continuing with the festive derbies against Munster and Leinster.

“We all talked in the changing room and the senior boys mentioned it,” said Pat Lam. “The question was asked, ‘Do we belong at the bottom of the table?’

“And there is a real commitment that we need to bring – this not just next week but every week – and get ourselves and Connacht off the bottom of the table.”

To that end, their straight-talking captain, Craig Clarke, ventured: “It’s back to the bread-and-butter and it’s a fact we are bottom in the Rabo.

“How we go about changing that is bottling what we did last week and some of the things we did tonight and putting it on the pitch. If we can do that, the table will look after itself.

“If we don’t do that and have more of the Edinburgh-style performances then we’ll stay there.”

The Connacht captain was also thrilled by the home support. “I think it’s awesome. For the size of the crowd related to the noise it makes, it must be one of the best in the world.

“The crowd are so vocal and so passionate. A team that’s 30 points put on them, the home team, and the crowd are still clapping you off and cheering for you.

“I don’t understand how it works, but I appreciate it and we all do. It makes us really want to perform for these people.”

As to the effects of the virus that laid low up to 30 members of the entire Connacht organisation and gave them little or no training ground preparations, Clarke said: “It’s tough because we don’t want to take anything from Toulouse – they performed really well.

“Sure our week was affected by it. We didn’t do as much on our feet. Some guys did nothing at all. But we had 23 guys who stripped and were given a job to do.

“Sure we may have been slightly off. We had a job to do and we didn’t do it so it’s a bit of both. I don’t want to make an excuse of it – it may have been a factor but, to be fair, I don’t think we would have won if we were fully fit anyway because of the way we played.”

Clarke was confident that Connacht could at least extract plenty of belief from their performances against Toulouse. “The challenge for Connacht is to not do it once a month or once every three weeks, but to regularly, individually get that performance and as a collective. That’s our challenge.”

His counterpart, Thierry Dusautoir, looked relieved as much as contented: “We played with a different spirit and we were more clinical with a better strategy. The first two tries showed how much we study our defence last week to how we were this week.

“On one hand I am very happy and the second I am still disappointed how we did last week so tonight we respected the Connacht team and we have been rewarded.”

Of his second visit to Galway, he smiled and said: “It was different the first time, but now we know Galway and the weather as well; a lot of ruin during the day, and it is quite cool, but I think it sees a good game of rugby tonight, without the rain, but quite windy. I think it is quite special and you can feel that people here love rugby.”

“The Heineken Cup is very important for our team,” said Dusautoir, pointing to the four stars above the crest on his heart. “You can see on my jersey, we won four times the title, so you can see how much important it is for us.

“We don’t put a priority on one competition or the other, we just play at our maximum level and try to win everything, but more difficult to say than doing it. I hope next year we have a European competition, it is very impotent for all the players and the economy of rugby.”