Connacht are off the bottom of the RaboDirect Pro12 table after a tough couple of months, and there is suddenly a sense that their season has turned a decisive corner.
That is what Pat Lam will be desperate to ensure proves to be the case, with the historic win against Toulouse in the Heineken Cup acting as the catalyst. The dramatic 14-11 win at home to the Dragons on Saturday certainly suggested that Connacht have grown in belief, particularly given the nature of the victory.
The western province trailed the Dragons 11-6 with just six minutes of normal time left, but a Fionn Carr try in the 74th minute was followed by a Dan Parks drop-goal in the dying seconds to seal what was just the second league win of the season for Connacht.
Lam stresses the importance of their Heineken Cup success in kick-starting Connacht’s season.
We’d talked about these three weeks, we wanted to carry on the momentum from Toulouse. I think in that Toulouse game we got ahead and then showed character to get the win. This week there were just minutes to go, but to be down by five and show character and guts to get down that end and get the points we needed was massive.
“It just all adds to the belief and trust in the team and we achieved the first objective of getting off the bottom of the table. Now we want to continue to build on that.”
In miserable conditions, a scrappy game was decided by the home team’s late flourish. The cross-field kick by Parks to set up Carr’s important try was something that Lam had felt was a possibility throughout, due to the Dragons’ defensive habits.
“The try was great. It was a bit frustrating [beforehand], and I was calling it on the sideline. We talked about it all week, they get pretty tight on D. If we were hammering at their line and not getting anywhere, the space was obviously out wide.”
Lam is worried about the injuries to McSharry and Heenan. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Aside from the winger’s effort, Parks scored two penalties and his late drop goal. Those scoring moments aside, it was far from a thrilling spectacle at the Sportsground, but Lam was content with how his men managed the conditions.
“We had a clear game plan to get right down that end of the pitch and stay there. We got there early and then we gave away a simple penalty and relieved pressure. The message from everyone was just about composure, get the ball, get down there and put some pressure on them.
We were putting them under set piece pressure. We knew that if we kept that ball, looked after it, these are the sort of games where players would infringe.”
Connacht didn’t emerge unscathed, with Dave McSharry forced off early in the game with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury. Flanker Jake Heenan joined the centre on the sidelines in the second half, when a shoulder problem meant he was withdrawn.
With a squad already depleted by injuries, Lam can ill afford being without the key pair in the short-term. However, if that proves to be the case, the former Samoan international is hopeful his squad can fill the holes.
“We’ve been saying all year we’ve have to rely on everybody, that’s the whole squad. Dave McSharry doesn’t look great, Jake Heenan is a worry as well. You think about Jake stepping in because of Willie Faloon’s injury, someone has to step in again.
It’s why we integrate everybody, making sure that everybody’s ready regardless of the experience or quality of the games they’ve played in. That’s why the culture is important, because we’ve got two big derbies coming up and a pretty battered squad.”