Lam’s lions the ones doing the slaughtering in Toulouse’s den
Connacht’s seismic Heineken cup Pool 3 victory over four-time winners one for the ages
Ecstatic Connacht players celebrate their wonderful Heineken Cup Pool 3 victory over Toulouse in their own Ernest Wallon stadium stronghold in southwestern France. Photograph: Remy Gabalda/AFP Photo/ Getty Images)
Truthfully, there’s never been a more seismic win in the history of the Heineken Cup. Connacht, with a budget of circa €2.5 million, were the weekend’s biggest outsiders, at 20/1, against Toulouse, the four-time winners with a budget of €34.8 million, who had won all seven home games this season, six with bonus points. Yet their 16-14 win was fully deserved and will have sent shock waves through European rugby.
Afterwards, Pat Lam could justifiably hail the victory as the greatest in Connacht’s history – their version of Munster’s win over the All Blacks.
Second clean sweep
It also completed a second consecutive, and stunning, clean sweep by the Irish provinces – the best weekend in the pool stages they have ever known, after Munster had backed up handsome wins by Leinster (possibly the best performance in the tournament to date) away to Northampton and at home by Ulster, by earlier beating Perpignan 36-8.
“It is absolutely amazing,” said Lam. “We are the first team to win here this season. I’m just so proud of my team, and of our province. It was an unbelievable effort. That’s what Connacht is all about.”
Bottom of the Rabo Pro12, Connacht had slumped to an eighth successive league defeat when losing 43-10 in Edinburgh last weekend, but Lam maintained their form had been better than indicated.
“Conceding three tries to Edinburgh in the last five minutes was maybe a blessing in disguise, and we tidied our defence up during the week and got our shape right.
“All I did was to bring shape, but that takes heart, and that’s what they showed in abundance. There was just one system error and they came through on it.”
That Jean-Pascal Barraque try gave Toulouse a 7-6 interval lead but a second penalty by Dan Parks, to add to a drop goal, and a try by the outstanding Kieron Marmion, converted by Parks, swung the game Connacht’s way. A 58th minute try by Robbie Henshaw, when released for a long-range run-in by Gavin Duffy off a turnover, was dubiously disallowed on referral to the TMO for a supposed knock-on back in the Connacht 22.
That would have made it 23-7 approaching the hour mark, but after a Toulouse drive yielded a Thierry Dusautoir try, Connacht kept Toulouse to inside half-way as they held out convincingly, pushing up hard and making their tackles to ensure no endgame heartache a la the All Blacks.
“I thought we were hard done by at the end for that that try by the TMO. That was gut-wrenching. There were some tough calls out there but I’m ecstatic with the players. You could not afford to retreat into your shell, it was important to keep playing.
“They have been the European champions. We have come here and into a team that never loses at home, so knew it was a massive challenge. It was like David and Goliath all over again. It is probably the biggest victory in Connacht’s history.”