Connacht turn their heads to Ulster after dramatic European win

After the dramatics of the weekend's Champions Cup action in the Sportsground, Connacht must come back down to earth and return to Guinness Pro 12 action.

They face a tough interprovincial meeting with Ulster tomorrow (7.35pm ), and Connacht head to Kingspan Stadium knowing it has been 55 years since the province won in Belfast.

There's never a good time to face Ulster, particularly after a defeat like they experienced against Clermont Avergne last weekend, but Connacht will certainly see a few jinks in Les Kiss's side which sits in fith place on the pro 12 table.

Breaking records has become a feature of this Connacht team, and coach Pat Lam would dearly love to add Ulster's scalp in Ravenhill to his CV before leaving the province for Bristol. It will provide a huge motivation for the squad, which is still short of players - the late being prop Conor Carey who sustained a foot injury in the Wasps game and is awaiting scan results. However Jake Heenan's knee and ankle injuries in the round 3 game against Wasps is not as bad as first thought, and although unlikely for the visit to the Kingspan Stadium, there is an outside chance.

Others facing time on the sideline are Dominic Robertson McCoy with a shoulder injury sustained in training last week and Stacey Ili, whose ankle injury will keep him out for up to six weeks.

"Ulster have a lot of pride playing at home, and we speak often of our supporters, and what the crowd means to us, and all the provinces are the same. There is a great atmosphere there, we have gone close on occasions and then had games where we were nowhere near it.

"I think every time we talk about the opportunity to create history, and we did make some at home by beating Ulster for the first time in a while, so there is some massive history available to us this weekend.

"The real challenge and also the positive from last week is I talked about mental toughness preparation and the boys did that, but we are in a worse situation this week with five players in Ireland camp, and a recovery day."

"It's another level up but we have confidence, because it's all very well talking about mental prep, but you need the outcome, and last weekend we got the result, and that has given everyone a real boost to do better this week, and we need to."

Last weekend's victory over Wasps, twice European champions and currently sitting second in the English premiership, is another scalp to savour.

Understandably Lam said it "one of the highlights" of his time in Connacht.

"No one outside knows the week we had. It was an unbelievable week of challenges, with a lot of working with videos and only one training session."

Struggling with injuries and with only two backs on the bench, Connacht was pulled along by the sell-out crowd before staging a late maul to grab an equalising try, which outhalf Jack Carty converted at the death.

Lam paid special mention to Carty, whose only miss on the the night was an opening penalty. The only outhalf and kicker still available in the team due to the injuries, he went on to kick two penalties and two conversions.

"Jack has taken flak, but this week he did extra sessions. He knew the team was going to need him because he was the last goal-kicker, and we are all emotional about it. That is an example of what Connacht people are all about - they get knocked back, but they dust themselves down and get going again, so this win is a tremendous win.

Wasps, Toulouse and Connacht all share 13 points - points difference being 81, 64 and 34 respectively. Hence Connacht will be looking for five points against Zebre, and await the result of Wasps v Toulouse in the next round.

"The main thing is we are still alive and it is in our control. We have always done well against Zebre because we have always respected them, but we know we will have to get five points from that game and really crank it up. It's a great pool."

Despite an early penalty miss, Connacht continued to play positively. With Bundee Aki looking for action, and super work from Quinn Roux to earn a second penalty, Carty put the home side ahead after nine minutes.

However five minutes later Wasps had countered after Connacht struggled to exit their half. No 8 Nathan Hughes did the damage with his rampaging run before Joe Simpson finished with the try, which outhalf Jimmy Gopperth converted.

It took some superb defence from Connacht to keep Wasps pack from crossing again, and with Tiernan O'Halloran sinbinned, John Muldoon did well to force a turnover and provide some relieving front foot ball. It resulted in a second Carty penalty after 31 minutes.

Connacht, however, enjoyed the best finish to the half. Although denied a try through the maul, they capitalised on a penalty to touch, and Carty's perfect cross field kick was gathered by replacement Danie Poolman for the home side's first try. Carty nailed the touchline conversion to boost the home side at the interval by 13-7.

Connacht continued where they left off, but Wasps were able to soak up the pressure, turn over vital ball, and post a penalty through Gopperth. They had Connacht under immense pressure, and the concession of another penalty drew Wasps level on 68 minutes. Worse followed for Connacht when after good work from Aki, they lost their own scrum and Wasps made no mistake with wing Josh Bassett touching down. Gopperth's conversion put his side 8-13 up and it looked like there was no way back for Pat Lam's side with just six minutes remaining.

However, in a heart hammering final few minutes, kickstarted by the loss of injured referee Jerome Garces, Connacht were camped inside their opponents 22. A lost line-out and another turn over seemed to dash hopes until some superb work by Sean O'Brien, Rory Parata, Niyi Adeolokun’s superb breakdown work won the penalty. The rest is history. Despite time up, Connacht, allowed to kick for touch, won the line-out and, helped by Aki and Parata, the forwards did not relent. Dawai at the tail of the maul touched down, and Carey's touchline conversion sent the 8090 fans in to a raptuous pitch invasion.

Lam had sympathy for assistant referee Mathieu Raynal.

"To be fair to the ref, there is so much in transition from one world cup to the next when rules are being looked at. Some teams are playing some rules, but everyone is discussing it, there's all sorts of transition, so I can easily understand it."

However Lam says the controversy did not detract from Connacht's win.

"We play what is in front of us. If it had been Wasps, and they kicked to the corner, we'd have to defend it; if they had tapped, we'd still have to defend it. There was no guarantee from that line-out, but it gave us a chance, and ultimately the work of Sean O'Brien, Rory Parata, Niyi Adeolokun in getting the turnover gave us the chance to have a go, whatever the chance it was going to be. We still had to work hard to do it, and that was the best part about it."


Page generated in 0.1219 seconds.