Jackman sees bigger and better things for Connacht
Grenoble coach impressed with the progress made by his former team under Pat Lam
Grenoble head coach Bernard Jackman: “Connacht themselves are viable candidates for a trophy. Okay, the Challenge Cup is gone for them this year but no-one will want to play against them in the knock-out stages. I wouldn’t like to play against them anyway.”
No less than Pat Lam at Connacht, Bernard Jackman is building something special at Grenoble, and after these two kindred spirits and their like-minded teams produced a veritable cracker, Jackman’s respect for the way his former club are playing was genuine and palpable.
Far from deriving extra personal satisfaction from beating one of his former Irish sides, Jackman would have preferred not to have met them, and wouldn’t envy anyone who has to face them again this season.
“It’s worse; I’d rather they were on the other side of the draw and both of us could get to the final. I admire good rugby, so when I see Connacht playing - and I know they don’t have the resources that the others have - but the young players there. Matt Healy was in DCU and he played games for me in DCU. He was scoring three or four tries a game.
“But, he was a guy who was lost, outside the system and now he’s a key man, he was brilliant. All of our French players were saying ‘who’s that guy, Matt Healy?’ He hasn’t played much at full-back, we said potentially we could target that. He targeted us.”
“He was a scrumhalf or wing, but it was Wednesday rugby in college; lads he was playing against were probably hungover and he was electric.
“What I like is that there are guys like Niyi (Adeolokun) as well, guys who were out of the system and now they’re viable candidates at some stage to become Ireland players.
“And Connacht themselves are viable candidates for a trophy. Okay, the Challenge Cup is gone for them this year but no-one will want to play against them in the knock-out stages. I wouldn’t like to play against them anyway.”
Whether they are showing the way forward for the rest of Irish rugby was a moot point. “In Irish rugby, all the coaches and provinces will play it the way they see it but I just think that the framework they have gives guys the opportunity to play with the ball in hand and show their skills,” explained Jackman.
“Afterwards, if Connacht don’t win a trophy and Leinster or Munster or Ulster win a trophy, the proof will be in the pudding, but I like the way they play, and try and play similarly. We didn’t tonight but we do try to play.”
As for the game itself, Jackman shook his head and declared: “It was bananas. I thought it was going to be a really open game, because both teams like to play and put attack before defence. And we got ourselves in a massive hole, conceded three very soft tries in the first-half.
“That’s what Connacht do, if you make a mistake they’ve the capacity to hurt you and at 19-3 I was obviously very worried, but I think we started to claw our way back into the game and it was 19-17 at half-time.
“I thought we starting to dominate a little bit. We kind of tightened up a bit this week, because we felt that physically we could dominate Connacht. In hindsight, it wasn’t that easy but we felt that those big carries we made, those big collisions would pay in the last 20.
“I thought Connacht’s last 15 against Leinster was incredibly hard, their last 10 against Ulster too and the Top 14 is a more power-based league, so at 19-17 at half-time, having said we were going to impose ourselves physically, I felt we were on the right track.”
Jackman hailed his 30-year-old Jonathan Wisniewski for masterminding the endgame so expertly and reminding everyone of his one-time reputation as the Top 14’s drop goal king.
“He’s very rarely allowed to take a drop-goal for us, because I don’t really enjoy it but I was pretty happy he ignored me and had a go. It was crucial, that and his conversion from the touchline before that, it was massive. Our half-backs didn’t have a better game than Connacht’s, but at the very important moments they controlled it really well and it probably won us the game.”
As for their own offloading game, epitomised by the re-born ex-Ulster centre Chris Farrell, whom Jackman stated can one day play for Ireland, the Grenoble coach said: “We’re allowed offload, 100 per cent, and I think in the first-half, even though the score was 19-3, we had some really good phases and moments in that first 20 minutes and we lost the ball in contact through trying to offload.
“But when we review the match on Monday, we look at the offloads that went well and the ones that didn’t go well and we talk about whether they were good decisions. We don’t talk about the outcome too much.
“Our team has a licence to offload and, in the Top 14, that can help us beat teams that are bigger. So, we’re not going to go away from that.”
Jackman also cited Grenoble’s greater experience. “It helped us to hang in there, the crowd helped us massively. The atmosphere was phenomenal, it wasn’t a full house, but when this place is full, 20,000 can sound like 40,000. It’s difficult for Connacht to handle a young team like us, coming at them in waves near the end and they’ve played so much in the game. We’re lucky to win, but we’re happy to win.”