Pat Lam: ‘I said to the boys: Channel what Connacht means to you’

Connacht 16 Glasgow Warriors 11: It has been the season of all seasons for Connacht —and the best may be yet to come.

Pat Lam: ‘I said to the boys: Channel what Connacht means to you’

Pat Lam’s side defeated defending champions Glasgow on Saturday night to advance to their first Guinness Pro12 final in the competition’s 14-year history.

And few would begrudge them defeating Leinster and landing the title in Scotland on Saturday night.

“Just a magnificent day for the west of Ireland,” said Lam of Saturday’s stunning victory played out before a capacity crowd at The Sportsground.

“I am extremely privileged and blessed to be part of this group and represent the west of Ireland. Before the game I said to the boys — ‘this is the process of winning the game, this is how we are going to go about doing it, just channel what this province means to you’.

“I highlighted all the boys who were local, there were eight of them, and highlighted the final. I told them to have no fear, to have a crack.

“It wasn’t perfect, we know that, but there was some good rugby.

“All in all, it’s not just a great day for the west of Ireland, but for Irish rugby.

“To have an all-Ireland final is going to be great.”

As Connacht Rugby ended their Sportsground season in a perfect way they now head to their new ‘home’ ground of Edinburgh for Saturday’s meeting with Leinster.

“It’s funny, the toss was done by Pro12 rugby and it was won by this game, so we have the Scottish main dressing room playing Ireland on the other side in Murrayfield, so it is something.

“We worked hard to get to the semi-final, and now we are in the final. We never talked about getting into the final, we’ve just talked about winning it.

“Now there’s a one in two chance of winning it. We are under no illusions. It’s a final now and it’s the top team, the team that won it more times than anyone else.

“They’ll have the biggest representation when Ireland go to South Africa. Their key guys — Johnny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip — all their big guys, were superb [against Ulster]. If we try to match them individually, we’ll get blown off the park.

“Everything is going to come down to our team structures in attack and defence. “

A Connacht side on a mission stymied Glasgow’s muscle power from the outset.

They drove forward menacingly and the thunderous tackles, epitomised by the man of the match Bundee Aki — who earlier in the week was on crutches after a training-ground knee injury — frustrated Gregor Townsend’s team of champions.

John Muldoon led the charge and with Aly Muldowney and Ultan Dillane dominant in the line-out and making hard yards in the middle of the park, Connacht always had their hosts on the back foot.

And with Glasgow losing both Finn Russell and Zander Fagerson in an attempted tackle on the irrepressible Aki in the opening minute, the game was not going the way of the champions.

Against the wind, Connacht took a 10-3 half-time lead. Having an Eoin McKeon try denied by TMO for an earlier knock-on by Aki, Connacht opened with a three-pointer from AJ MacGinty in the 23rd minute, only for Glasgow to respond with a Duncan Weir penalty two minutes later.

It took a smart grubber from Aki to unlock the Glasgow defence — Niyi Adeolokun gathering the bouncing ball, and with some clever footwork, he evaded three defenders, claiming the opening try just before the break.

Glasgow fired the second half with a rampaging attack and they were eventually rewarded when Leone Nakarawa — having been denied by a superb home defence in the first half, crashed over.

MacGinty put Connacht 13-8 ahead only for Weir to reply with a penalty to make it 13-11. Connacht had the champions under the cosh. They were camped in the Glasgow 22, winning penalty after penalty, kicking them to touch and driving their line-out maul. MacGinty eventually opted for the posts instead of another kick to touch and stretched Connacht’s lead to five points at 16-11. And despite intense Glasgow pressure, that is how it remained until the final whistle.

On a day when the west of Ireland lost one of its great hurlers, Joe McDonagh, famous for his rendition of ‘The West’s Awake’ at Croke Park in 1980, there was no better choice of celebratory song for the Sportsground faithful.

“Especially poignant,” said captain John Muldoon. “In an area where people follow all sports, not just rugby fans out there, but soccer, hurling, and football, we are pulling out of a small pool, and it is sad for Joe and his family — a poignant day that ‘The West’s Awake’ rang through a rugby stadium.”

CONNACHT:

T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy; AJ MacGinty, K Marmion; R Loughney, T McCartney, F Bealham; U Dillane, A Muldowney; E McKeon, J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt).

Replacements:

John Cooney for Marmion (59 )A Browne for Dillane (60), S O’Brien for McKeon (60), John Cooney for Marmion (60)D Heffernan for Loughney (64), P Robb for Aki (71).

GLASGOW:

S Hogg; T Seymour, M Bennett, P Horne, S Lamont; F Russell, H Pyrgos; G Reid, F Brown, Z Fagerson; L Nakarawa, J Gray (capt); R Wilson, S Favaro, J Strauss.

Replacements:

D Rae for Fagerson and D Weir for Russell (1m), A Ashe for Favaro (28), P MacArthur for Brown (59), R Grant for Rae (59), T Naiyaravoro for Horne (60), Rae for Reid (62),T Swinson for Strauss (66),G Hart for Pyrgos (71).

Referee:

M Mitrea (Italy)

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