Connacht must turn the disappointment of defeat to Leinster into a winning performance against the Newport Gwent Dragons tomorrow when they meet in Rodney Parade (7.15pm ).
Losing to Leinster is one thing, but against the Welsh Dragons, it is unacceptable. If Connacht want to make the play-offs this season, a win is non negotiable, but they will need to eradicate the errors, display greater accuracy in execution under pressure, and survive a meaningful challenge from a side sitting just three behind them on the table.
The Dragons suffered a defeat to fellow Welsh side Ospreys by 17-35 last weekend, but tomorrow evening’s fixture provides a great incentive - a win would see them leapfrog the Pro 12 champions. This week Pat Lams says it is all about the players ensuring they are prepared.
“Last weekend was disappointing mentally. When you make so many mistakes, it’s all upstairs, and the breakdown is a mental challenge. It really comes down to being switched on mentally, otherwise the whole game becomes tough,” he says. “If I drop a ball, I am not focused, and that has a consequence on the lot of us. The people who hurt most are the players, so it’s about them getting it fixed, it’s all individual stuff.”
Lam says immediately after last weekend’s 24-13 loss in the RDS, he challenged his players. “Go through your prep, go through the reviews, and get your learning out of it. When we have that we can be the team we should be. Some guys will talk about it, but they are all big enough and old enough, so I put the focus on them to look at it.”
However Connacht are facing a mini-crisis up front and Lam has called in Galwegian club prop Jason East as a back-up player this week. With all six Academy props down, and missing Nathan White (retired ), Finlay Bealham on Ireland duty, Denis Buckley, hooker Tom McCartney, who can over pop, and Ivan Soroka, Lam has only three fit props in JP Cooney, Conor Carey, and Dominic Robertson-McCoy, and possibly Saba Meunargia, who has been out for three weeks.
“If we can get this game out of the way and get the points we need, we get a good two/three week break which will help a lot of guys coming back. The front row is one area we are struggling, and after the break we should see Tom [McCartney], and Denis [Buckley], back, in addition to Nepia Fox Matamua, John Cooney, and Matt Healy, while Ronan Loughney, Craig Ronaldson and Sean O’Brien if they don’t make it this week.” Connacht have won their last seven encounters with the Dragons, but Lam says it is never easy.
“Always tough. Every time we have gone down there, we have been successful, but even when we get the bonus point, it’s hard work. One of the biggest areas is the breakdown, they have wily operators in their team, and under Kingsley Jones, they also use the ball a lot more.
“What Connacht is, we showed many times last year we can win ugly, but we need to nail our jobs. It’s all about applying pressure, but [against Leinster] we released the pressure by a mistake, kicking a ball - there were some good kicks, and then ones that were 50:50 which came down to execution - we are only as good as everyone getting their jobs done.”
The disappointing result and performance in Leinster came after a bright opening 20 minutes in which Connacht controlled possession and territory, and posted two penalties for a 6 - 0 lead.
“The first 20 minutes we had them on the ropes and should have been more than six ahead. We applied the pressure, but then let it off. It was frustrating because of the uncharacteristic errors we made.”
Thereafter Leinster found their rhythm with Isa Nacewa posting the home side’s first points from a 23rd minute penalty as they started to put pressure on Pat Lam’s men and after Connacht lost Craig Ronaldson to concussion, they failed to capitalize on a scoring opportunity after Leinster’s Sean O’Brien was yellow carded for a shoulder charge on Peter Robb at the breakdown, but from the resulting penalty to touch, Connacht lost possession, and frustratingly for Connacht, Leinster held the upper hand at the breakdown.
Nacewa put the home side ahead with two penalties for a 9-6 half time lead with Peter Robb being sent to the bin for a deliberate knock-on after an attempted interception. Nacewa was again in the right place to stop a certain try from Carty’s kick for Adeolokun after the restart before Leinster’s right wing Adam Byrne grabbed the first try after 49 minutes, taking advantage of Connacht’s forward defence out wide.
Great work from Tiernan O’Halloran stopped a second Byrne try, but Leinster nosed further ahead with another penalty. The game was wrapped up with debutant Barry Daly finished off a good forward build-up with Nacewa adding the extras. There was little consolation for Connacht when hooker Shane Delahunt grabbed a 79th minute try which Carty converted.
“Everything is fixable, “ says Lam. “That is the beauty of our system is that everyone is accountable.”
Connacht v Leinster: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Peter Robb, Craig Ronaldson, Cian Kelleher; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; JP Cooney, Dave Heffernan, Conor Carey, Quinn Roux, Andrew Browne, Sean O’Brien, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon (cpt ). Replacements: Bundee Aki for Ronaldson (19 ), Finlay Bealham for JP Cooney (38, Eoin McKeon for O’Brien, Dominic Robertson-McCoy for Carey (both 54 ), Shane Delahunt for Heffernan, James Cannon for Roux (both 60 ), Stacey Ili for Kelleher (70 ), Caolin Blade for Marmion (78 ). Sinbinned, Robb (38-48 mins ).