Pressure mounts on Connacht to show their champions class

A winning performance is "not far off" promises coach Pat Lam as Connacht come under increasing pressure to get their first points in this season's PRO 12 when Edinburgh visit the Sportsground on Friday (7.35pm ).

After an improved performance, but ultimately a disappointing defeat to the Scarlets at Parc Y Scarlets at the weekend, Lam says his faith in the team, despite three defeats on the trot, is unshakeable.

"I can't guarantee a win [ on Friday], never have, but I can guarantee that these men and us as a team are working extremely hard. And one thing I will tell you, I have a lot of belief in these players. I really believe in these guys and I believe in what we are doing."

Lam says the players have been hard on themselves after their poor start to the defence of their Pro 12 title.

"A lot of players are hard on themselves. I see their reactions after. Even in the changing room, I have seen the growth of John Muldoon - from the way he used to take losses to now, and how he encourages the guys.

"He knows how to get out of this. We've lost three games - we've done that many times - last year and years before, and it doesn't take much to change it, but what it requires is an individual effort and a collective, the individual brings the whole collective together."

Despite the 17-8 defeat to Scarlets, Connacht are getting better, he says.

"It was our best performance of the year, an improvement from the weeks before, particularly defensively, body language and effort. I was impressed with our defence, and although we made a couple of bad reads, one on the first try, and the second we had the set-up wrong, there was a lot of energy.

"We rely on everyone nailing their job, that is the type of team we are. The good times are judged by the Ws, but for us this is a massive learning time."

Lam has two injury concerns ahead of Edinburgh's visit with lock Andrew Browne awaiting scan results after suffering a thigh injury in training last week, while centre Eoin Griffin has a hamstring injury. However Danie Poolman and Peter Robb are available for selection, as is new signing James Cannon.

Connacht added the 6'8" Irish qualified Cannon to the squad this week following a spate of injuries to the second row, while also planning for the possible absences of Ireland players Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux.

Roux's return last weekend against Scarlets certainly added some weight to Connacht's power game, and while there were moments reminiscent of last season's success - a Bundee Aki break, astute work from Niyi Adeolokun who scored the opening try, a try-saving tackle from Tiernan O'Halloran, and a solid scrum, the synergy in attack continued to stutter.

Choppy waters for Connacht

It has certainly left the current Pro 12 champions in an uncomfortable place, having never suffered three losses on the bounce at the start of the Pro 12. However Lam believes there was enough in that display at a rain-sodden Parc y Scarlets to suggest the champions will resurrect their season.

"Of all the games we have played so far, it was certainly one of our better ones as far as energy and performance went," said Lam. "Unfortunately - again - the last 20 minutes was key. We led for 60 minutes, but in that sort of weather, it was always going to come down to key things. As I said to the boys in the changing rooms, it is all very well looking at your errors, but just understand the consequences of them, and it should motivate you to improve."

There was greater intensity to Connacht's display and a well-orchestrated try in the first half, but they allowed Scarlets to dominate the second half through Rhys Patchell's kicking game, while the finishing prowess of Welsh player Liam Williams proved lethal.

"I think we are judging ourselves from last March, April, May, but it took us a while to get to that during the season. Certainly there are new players and we are working through it, but my main thing is that we continue to get better, and have to work on the areas we are not quite nailing, but I am confident we will get that done.”

It had been a promising opening half for the visitors who held a slender 7-8 lead, courtesy of a try from Niyi Adeolokun and a late Jack Carty penalty.

Although the incessant rain made the game difficult for both sides, Connacht certainly displayed an improved work rate, but fell foul of referee George Clancy at the breakdown. However fullback Aled Thomas was unable to take advantage, missing three kicks at goal inside the opening 16 minutes, and Pat Lam's players looked considerably sharper in attack. Adeolokun was instrumental in the build up to his 21st minute try, chasing his hack ahead against the run of play, and forcing a five metre scrum. Connacht capitalised with front rowers Denis Buckley and Tom McCartney providing the assist for the right winger to score in the corner. Outhalf Jack Carty missed the touchline conversion, and within five minutes the home side had responded when they grabbed the initiative from a lost Connacht line and finished with Williams skipping inside Marmion for their first try after 35 minutes, with Patchell adding the conversion.

From the restart Connacht edged in front with a Jack Carty penalty after 38 minutes, but on 65 minutes a second turnover gave the hosts the opening. O'Halloran halted Liam Williams just shy of the line, but from another five-metre scrum, replacement Caolin Blade could not halt Liam Williams' momentum as he slid in for the winning try. Patchell added the extras for a 14-8 lead before a drop goal heaped more misery on the defending champions.

Connacht: T O'Halloran, N Adeolokun, B Aki, E Griffin, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, Q Roux, U Dillane, E McKeon, J Muldoon (cpt ). Replacements: S O'Leary for Griffin (58 ), C Blade for Marmion (64 ), D Heffernan for McCartney, R Loughney for Buckley and JP Cooney for Bealham (66m ). J Connolly for Heenan (71 ), C Kelleher fot Adeolokun (73 ), L Stevenson for Roux (75 ).


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