Connacht coach pat LAM was more proud of the effort his flu-ridden team put in against Toulouse at the Sportsground this evening than the one that saw them win 16-14 in France last week.
The New Zealander witnessed his team, who lost three squad members to flu two hours before kick-off, lose out 37-9 to Toulouse. Two brilliant Maxime Medard tries set the four-time Heineken Cup champions up for an emphatic, bonus point win.
Speaking post-match, Lam revealed the extent of the flu virus that had crippled his team’s preparations. “I’m so proud of my team and their heart was probably [greater] after the last week we’ve had,” he said.
The guy that epitomised it most was probably Kieran Marmion, on a drip 48 hours ago in hospital. Then, with Frank Murphy going down, we brought Paul O’Donohoe back but then Paul went down too so we had no extra half-back. The plan was for to see how far Kieran could go but, look, that 80 minutes from Kieran under [those circumstances] was unbelievable.
“Dave McSharry, we only saw today. Unbelievable. Jake Heenan. Right through the team. The heart shown was unbelievable.”
While Toulouse, smarting from their defeat to Connacht last Sunday, set their stall out for tries from the start, Connacht tried to cling on through Dan Parks penalties and drop goals. Their scrum and lineout creaked all evening and Guy Noves’ men made hay with aimless kicking from the out-half and Robbie Henshaw.
Toulouse’s Florian Fritz and Yann David tackle Dave McSharry. INPHO/James Crombie
Lam added, “The difference from here, this week, is that we lost shape in the system at times. Last week we had that for long periods of time. The heart was channelled and we were able to achieve the result. This week, when we lost that we gave them points; then we were chasing the game against a pretty massive team.”
The size of Connacht hearts may have impressed Lam but the coach lamented the 5kg weight difference in player match-ups across the park. The size difference was stark in the closing stages as Toulouse brought on towering replacements Guthro Steenkamp and Joe Tekori.
Connacht’s squad may have been sapped of strength but they wasted a lot of their energy in the middle of the park. Medard’s two tries came from Connacht getting caught out and leaving no-one at home to police the flanks. A lightning quick passing move and a delicious crossfield kick set the winger up for two simple, yet well taken, tries.
Turnovers, Lam complained, cost his side badly. “Even with 10 minutes to go, the crowd kept the boys going and they kept trying and kept trying. What I asked was that we need to front-up again, heart-wise and commitment, and that was even better than last week. We just broke down around our structure.”
The major task for Connacht, now that Heineken Cup quarter-final hopes have been put to bed, is climbing off the foot of the Pro12 table. Newport Gwent Dragons visit Galway next week and Connacht will be desperate to record only their second league win of the season.
“We all talked about it in the changing room,” revealed Lam, “the senior boys spoke about it. The question was asked ‘Do we belong at the bottom of the table?’ There was a real commitment that we have to bring this [performance] not just this week but every week and get Connacht off the bottom of the table.”