Connacht full-back Tiernan O’Halloran said they have got over the shock of Pat Lam’s decision to leave the Sportsground and are set to sting Wasps this weekend.
O’Halloran, who made his Irish debut on the tour to South Africa during the summer, said that the players had no inkling that Lam was leaving for Bristol at the end of the season.
But he said they are now fully focused on Sunday’s Champions Cup clash against Wasps at the Ricoh Arena when they will bid to notch their third win in a row in the pool.
“Naturally enough Monday was a bit of shock to all of us. Obviously none of us had heard anything. It was a big shock,” said O’Halloran.
“But it was more an appreciation for what Pat has done. The stuff he has done for this province since he came here both on and off the pitch. And personally he has helped me on and off the pitch. And as individuals as well, you can see everyone, their games have gone on so much and just makes us, collectively, a very strong team. We have a good balance in the squad now. There is enough experienced players in the squad to know that it’s not something that we can dwell on.
“It’s obviously big news but with a Champions Cup game against one of the biggest in Europe on Sunday. You can’t force that, you can’t let that sink in. We have that balance of experience. And then you have the other side of it where you have young lads who could probably go out and play Test match rugby tomorrow, and it wouldn’t faze them at all,” said the 25-year old.
He has scored two tries in his three Irish appearances so far and is hoping to make his Six Nations debut in 2017 but for now his full focus is on Connacht. He said the players met and discussed Lam’s departure on Monday but then decided to park it and make sure their full attention is on Wasps.
“On Tuesday, everyone was just focused on this game and again there was that battle for competition. Everyone wants to play Champions Cup rugby. It’s the pinnacle of European rugby and everyone wants to be involved. You might think it would take a couple of days but it’s good to get it over and done with it in a day.”
O’Halloran does not envisage a string of players leaving after Lam and feels that Connacht is bigger than that now, with the likes of Bundee Aki, Finlay Bealham, and Ultan Dillane committing their future to the Sportsground after Robbie Henshaw left.
“All you have to do is look at Bundee, Ultan, and Finlay signing on. They’re three of the biggest players in the squad and they’re committing their future to the province and it’s a massive sign of intent.
“It gives positivity to everyone then, Bundee was a big one. Lads were a bit worried that if Bundee left we’d be light in the centre and would lost that leadership role as well. To have those guys signed on means a lot, it just drives us all on and we know we have good security here.
“We’re all in this together, we want to work together as a team. t’s the nature of rugby, people are going to come and go. It’s what happened with Robbie last year, but you have to get over it and other lads will step in and do a job.”
O’Halloran said Aki’s tweet — he fired out ‘Feeling pissed’ after hearing Lam was leaving — was just typical of the star. “It is a natural reaction. Bundee’s an emotional guy and you see that every Friday or Saturday when he steps out on to the pitch, he leaves it out there every time.
“It’s a natural reaction when people get hit with big news, but I think the important thing when something like that happens is that we don’t go off individually and have our own thoughts, but as a collective we come together and talk it out.
“That’s exactly what we did when Pat told us the news he was leaving. We stayed behind and talked as a team.
“We spoke about things like that as a collective and knowing that we have such a big game on Sunday, that was a massive part of it as well; not letting something like this affect us too much and get on with a big game on Sunday.”
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