Pat Lam has urged his young players to learn from the mistakes that cost them so dearly in Grenoble last weekend and has told his players that they could do worse than look towards Munster, their opponents this Saturday in Galway, for inspiration.
The Connacht coach was in the twilight of his playing career when his Northampton Saints side edged past Munster in the 2000 Heineken Cup final at Twickenham, thanks in part to a quartet of missed kicks by Ronan O’Gara.
Lam spoke yesterday of the pressure the Saints placed on the young O’Gara that day, but pointed to the manner in which the out-half absorbed the experience as he went on to enjoy a legendary career in the green of Ireland and the red of both Munster and the British and Irish Lions.
It was typical Lam.
A mistake is only a mistake if a player fails to work on eliminating it from his game and that was noticeable during training at the Sportsground where Shane O’Leary, whose errant crossfield kick allowed Grenoble back into the Challenge Cup quarter-final, was practicing that very skill.
“He’s doing a great job,” Lam said of his fourth-choice ten. “Ronan O’Gara is the example I use. Even Aaron Cruden when he first came on the scene. Out-half is such an experience position. You can see the development of Jack (Carty) as well and that has taken a while.
“You just need the games underneath you.
“AJ MacGinty had the World Cup experience (with the USA), but he started off pretty slowly for us and he started to get a run of games before he got injured. Shane is only beginning that process. He did some really good things in the game that he can be proud of.
“And he did things that are big learnings for him. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people like the Ronan O’Garas who have fallen away. It is about taking those learnings and doing what Ronan and other quality players did and go on and have great careers.”
So, no regrets from the weekend, then, just a determination to improve. Lam’s words would appear to be hitting home, given he was receiving emails from players stating their intent to rectify errors even as the Connacht bus was leaving the ground last Saturday.
It remains to be seen if O’Leary gets the chance to kick on this weekend for Munster’s Guinness Pro12 visit to the Sportsground. MacGinty and Craig Ronaldson are still unavailable but Carty has made a miraculous recovery.
It isn’t much more than two months since the out-half ruptured his spleen in a freak water slide accident while on holiday, but he could have some involvement at the weekend after returning to full contact training yesterday.
So could centre Rory Parata, who hasn’t been fit since February.
Not that it is all good news on the injury front for Connacht. Is it ever? Lam said as much when pointing out that his named XV has been changed prior to taking to the field this last three weeks. It has been that type of season.
The latest blows concern flanker Jake Heenan and winger Danie Poolman who damaged a foot in France and is awaiting results from a scan. Full-back Tiernan O’Halloran will also be absent again.
Still, Lam’s ability to mix and match his resources has been key to a season that took his side to the last eight in the Challenge Cup and one which sees them second in the Pro12 and three games away from possibly adding a home play-off to the all-bu-secured Champions Cup spot.
“Look at the other teams in the competitions, even the other Irish provinces, and put them all to their fourth out-half and their fourth openside flanker and then see the difference,” he said. “That’s the pleasing thing with what we’re doing.
“When you focus it around the jobs rather than the individual doing them then, when one guy comes in, he has clarity on the job and it is up to them to do that. That is why a lot of these guys are doing very well although they are under a lot of pressure,” he added.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved