While disappointed with results Pat Lam believes Connacht are heading in the right direction
Despite last week’s defeat head coach is looking forward to facing Saracens on Friday night
Connacht’s head coach Pat Lam
The initiation rites for Connacht rugby coaches never change. On Monday afternoon as Pat Lam put his players through their paces, the dry October weather was quickly replaced by an unholy Galway city downpour.
Lam had just about dried off when he sat down to go through the inventory which affects Connacht more than those teams with deeper reserves: the injury list.
Afterwards he sat back and explained why he believed that his team could somehow defeat an ominously powerful Saracens team in Friday night’s Heineken Cup opener just a week after Connacht’s desultory 23-3 loss to Treviso.
Friday night’s game at the Sportsground is a crossing point of the conflicting ideologies which are threatening the future of European rugby. Saracens are, of course a central element of the English-French axis seeking to establish an elite competition and effectively end the scenario where the most powerful clubs visit fringe cities like Galway for these David- and-Goliath cup nights.
Dominated opening weeks
They have dominated the opening weeks of England’s rugby season and running up a withering score in Galway would be the best way to illustrate the argument of their dissatisfaction with the current competition.
“Well, we haven’t heard them say that,” Lam says evenly in response to the idea that the Saracens club don’t really believe clubs like Connacht belong on their schedule.
“But there is a lot at stake because it is a European Cup game. We have seen the impact those games have had here so it is a big game regardless of the politics. People will have opinions and we can’t control that. Saracens are on a roll. They are not just beating some of the top teams in the Premiership, they are smashing them. And we know it is going to be a big ask.
“And that is exciting. I think we go into this in the frame of mind of the ‘Connacht way’. Every time I see these guys prepare and go out: they are committed. They fight to the end. Even when we know the game is gone, they go hard. And in the changing room, I feel for them because they are sore boys. They throw their bodies around. But they are looking forward to it.”
Lam knows that he is probably echoing the words and sentiments of Eric Elwood and Michael Bradley, his predecessors at Connacht whose job it was not just to coach a rugby team but to maintain morale regardless of their win/loss ratio.
It is still early in the season but already Lam has seen the westerners occupy familiar territory between a rock and a hard place, with just a win against Zebre to show for their efforts to date. Lam’s belief is that his players have made rapid improvements in their overall game but that key decision making has cost them dearly. When he examined the statistics for the Treviso game, he noted that the team had dominated the top carries (Danie Poolman, with 11 led; only one Treviso player made it in the top six) and top metres run.
“You would almost think that we had won the game,” he said. “There are some real positive signs on what we are trying to do. The [problematic] area is our finishing. We make a lot of line breaks. We are one of the top teams in off loads. We have the highest running metres of any team. But it comes down to our errors and our decision making. There is no doubt that while we are disappointed we are heading in the right direction.