Lam looks to Connacht culture to turn the tide

Connacht’s  Niyi Adeolokun is chased by Osprey's Olly Cracknell at the Sportsground on Saturday. Adeolokun signed a three year contract extension this week,
Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Connacht’s Niyi Adeolokun is chased by Osprey's Olly Cracknell at the Sportsground on Saturday. Adeolokun signed a three year contract extension this week, Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Connacht will take a welcome break from the Sportsground this weekend in a bid to get their Guinness Pro 12 title defence on track.

Bottom of the table after two successive defeats at home, Connacht's fixture against Zebre in Parma will come as some relief. Connacht have never lost to the Italian side, home or away, and Saturday presents a real opportunity for the defending champions to put much-needed points on the board.

"The reason we have done so well against them is that our mindset is around respect," says Lam. "It is something we always focus on having lost the first year to Treviso. You can't go over there thinking you can win if you don't respect their ability and them as a team, so it's been a big focus to make sure our mindset is right, what we need to do, and treat them like all the other big teams we play," he says. "They are a different team in Parma, and this is their first home game. "

The Italian side is a bonus-point above scoreless Connacht, but Lam believes the poor start can be turned around.

"There are a lot of circumstance and cards that we have been dealt, but all it does is bring the culture and the way we do things to light. It's great we have been able to do it when things have been going well, but now is when it really counts. This is why you build your culture, your systems, and structures.

"I'm not happy about where we are at and I'm disappointed, but I know how to get out of this situation and the learnings that will come from this situation.

"Yes, we have lost two games, but I look at why we lost and how we are going to get better, and how we apply it next week. The season is 22 games, and this, collectively as a group, will hold us in really good stead. They can all put their hands up now - everyone of this group of 2016 - and say 'yip' they have been at the bottom of the table."

However, Lam is still dealing with a heavy injury list, confirming flanker Nepia Fox Matamua is ruled out until November with a hamstring injury, wing Danie Poolman is following concussion protocols, and Ireland Sevens player Josh Rowland it out for up to six week after surgery on an ankle injury.

The only return to date is Denis Buckley, while Lam confirmed outhalf Marnitz Boshoff had been refused an early season release from the Lions' Currie Cup campaign in South Africa.

It will certainly not make their task easier as they try to overcome last weekend's 32-11 defeat to visitors Ospreys.

Their concession of a second bonus win, compounded by the leaking of 73 points - 32 to Ospreys on Saturday and 41 to Glasgow - means a win in Italy is essential.

Everything is a must-win, it's points on offer," he says. "We had enough opportunities that we didn't finish off, but from half time onwards for the next 25, we played much better rugby which was good.

"You can’t take away from who we were playing, two teams really hungry, at full strength. Even without Alun Wyn Jones and Dan Biggar, they [Ospreys] are a strong side. We went toe to toe, and a couple of moments in the last nine minutes killed us."

Certainly Connacht looked more like their attacking selves for long periods. They led 11-10 until the 61st minute, but the concession of three tries in the final nine minutes ensured the champions suffered a second home defeat in front of record crowds for their opening two games.

While the scoreline may not reflect Connacht's domination, they lacked the same finishing prowess that produced their Pro 12 winning run last season, and were also undone by Ospreys' choking tackles and breakdown.

"At 11-18 with nine minutes to go, the message was, and everyone knows, we have to bring the tempo up and go. We attacked the edge, but unfortunately the pass didn't stick, so turnover and they scored. And so it's just go for it again, but then we got a system error in defence again and the score blew up, which wasn't a reflection of the game. The main thing I am pleased about is that we were certainly better than we were last week."

Ospreys, in contrast, made their possession count. While outhalves Sam Davies and Jack Carty exchanged penalties, the former champions continued to break Connacht's first-up tackles with the halfbacks controlling the play. Captain and scrumhalf Rhys Web grabbed the opening try on 28 minutes after No 8 Tyler Arden's initial burst from the base of a five-metre scrum, but Connacht had reduced the gap within five minutes of the restart. An excellent kick from Carty found touch five metres out before he was brought down with a high tackle and added the ensuing penalty .

The home side dominated the next 20 minutes, but failed to make the breakthrough from a succession of penalties kicked to touch, shortchanged from a series of rolling mauls. Eventually, however, they found form through their trademark attacking with ball in hand. Exploiting an overlap after several phases, Aki supplied flanker Eoin McKeon who crossed for what was their only try of the game. Although Carty missed the conversion, Connacht took an 11-10 lead.

But within minutes Connacht conceded a rare penalty at scrum time, Davies added the three points, and a second penalty for a questionable offside stymied another Connacht attacking move. It handed the impetus back to the visitors with the influential Ardran forcing his way over to extend the lead to 18-11 with Davies missed missing the kick.

Then it all fell apart for the home side. First they paid the price for a poor pass, and despite Healy's excellent chase, Webb grabbed his second try. Four minutes later they wrapped up the bonus point with Jeff Hassler touching down. Davies extended his tally to 12 with the conversion, adding to Connacht's misery.

CONNACHT: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, E Griffin, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; R Loughney, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, D Qualter; E McKeon, J Connolly, J Muldoon (capt ). Replacements: JP Cooney for Bealham (60 mins ), S O’Leary for Carty (66 mins ), C Blade for Marmion, L Stevenson for Qualter (both 68 mins ).

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