Pat Lam excited by summit meeting with Leinster

The Connacht coach highlighted importance of squad ahead of make-or-break run

Never in their history has there been a game quite like it. Sure, Connacht have played Leinster in front of full houses at the Sportsground before, but not in front of an increased capacity of 7,300, and nor, more pertinently, as first in the Guinness Pro12 table hosting second. A league summit meeting post-Six Nations. Galway is agog already.

Pat Lam, if he was ever inclined to do so, could have a career in sports marketing. "Now the test is one v two, Connacht v Leinster, the Sportsground, sold-out, big crowd, broadcast live on Sky, Nigel Owens as ref. We want to get as many of these guys going to South Africa [with the Ireland squad] and these are the sort of games that if we perform well as a team, they'll have an opportunity as individuals."

The Connacht coach added another appetiser: “We’re talking about the best attacking team [Connacht] against the best defensive team [Leinster], so it’s set up quite nicely.”


Connacht’s quintet of groundbreaking Six Nations players are available for selection.


Kieran Marmion


Finlay Bealham

returned to training on Monday,

Nathan White


Ultan Dillane

yesterday, although Dillane has “a few niggles”, while

Robbie Henshaw

returns tomorrow.

For the Leinster-bound Henshaw, this is a slightly unusual fixture, but one in which he is particularly desperate to demonstrate his commitment to Connacht for the rest of the season.

“He is so keen to finish well with Connacht” said Lam. “It’s important to remember that he played all 80 minutes of those five [Ireland] games. He’s pretty battered and bruised and at the weekend he took quite a big knock.

“But through all my time here he’s always been professional and . . . he’ll pick it all up again really fast, and I know he’ll do well for us going forward.”

For Connacht this is the first of a make-or-break five-game league run-in, beginning with three derbies which sandwich a Challenge Cup quarter-final away to Grenoble.

Lam re-iterated that Connacht’s primary goal remained a top-six finish and direct qualification for next season’s European Champions Cup, with all else a bonus.

He also put this tie into perspective when noting that while Connacht now have eight internationals, Leinster have 31, and, what’s more, “they are the most capped team in the Pro12 with 876 caps, we have the lowest, 50, and so when we look at it like that you’d say there’s no doubt everyone would put their money on that [Leinster] team.”


Even so, the ripple effects of having five Connacht players contribute to an Irish win were palpable.

“Without a doubt,” said Lam.

“Everybody was buzzing about it, and it just highlights to the guys that you don’t need to be playing for two, three, four seasons to make it if you can perform well.

“Ultan has played 12 games at Pro12. The most pleasing thing for me was when I had a conversation with Joe talking through the players, and he tells me they’ve done really well. It’s really satisfying. But it’s only a stepping stone in their development.”

Furthermore, Lam has re-emphasised Connacht's structures, systems and work ethic this week, while reminding his players: "If you go out there trying to impress Joe Schmidt, and it's me against him, you won't make it.

“We’ve worked hard to be here, and it’s important to understand how we got here, and that’s what we keep drumming home.

“Everyone is fighting hard for the jersey. There’s some serious competition and unfortunately some boys will be disappointed, but they’ll push their mates too,” said Lam, who added: “One thing is guaranteed. The starting team for this weekend will not be the starting team for the rest of the six games. We’re going to need everybody.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times