Northampton Saints 21 Connacht 15: He came into the post-match press conference in charge of Connacht for the last time and less than 10 minutes later Pat Lam departed as the new coach of Bristol.

That, in reality, is how quickly things evolve in the professional game.

At the outset of the interview on Saturday evening the ‘we’ he mentioned referred to the Connacht team he took to unprecedented heights in the past four years but by the time he was departing, after a few queries from the English hacks in our midst, the ‘we’ he talked was about the Bristol side he will take over in a few weeks and expectedly guide back to the top flight in England.

It would have been fitting had Lam flown the nest next Friday evening at a packed Sportsground, having guided Connacht to Champions Cup rugby next season, but Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday, a place where he captained them to Heineken Cup glory in 2000, wasn’t a bad place or event to finish things either.

The 200 or so Connacht supporters travelled in hope, but after drubbings in recent games against Scarlets and Munster — now the PRO12 finalists, as it turns out — there were genuine fears that this could be a hammering.

That it wasn’t, and that Connacht laid siege to the home 22 in the final five minutes in search of winner, was testimony to the sort of doggedness which, truth be told, was notable for its absence in the defence of the PRO12 crown this season.

“If last week was the season it would have been a real downer,” said Lam in reference to Muster putting 50 points on them.

“I’m very proud of the effort and that’s a decision they all decided to do that which was great. Ultimately, Connacht is good enough to play in the Champions Cup.

“That’ll always be frustrating. Not as frustrating as not making the play-off stages this season after beating Wasps and beating Toulouse. If we had got to that play-off it would have been a massive achievement. I still replay those last five minutes in my head.”

They gave it a fair crack on Saturday, looking more like the side which won the PRO12 last year than the one which has been all over the place this term.

Niyi Adeolokun raced through to finish Craig Ronaldson’s grubber and a couple of kicks from Ronaldson had them just 13-10 adrift at the break.

Northampton, for all their stars, were far from formidable. Nic Groom got through for a key try after 57 minutes but Connacht hit back and were rewarded for their ambition in going for the corner when Dave Hefferan scored just after the hour mark.

They would have won it had they been able to repeat that in the closing stages but Northampton clung on to set up a final date at home to Stade Francais next Friday, and in the process bring the Lam era at the Sportsground to an end.

Scorers:

Northampton Saints: H Mallinder, N Groom tries; Mallinder 3 pens, 1 con.

Connacht:

N Adeolokun, D Heffernan tries; C Ronaldson 1 pen, 1 con.

Northampton Saints:

A Tuala (M Haywood; B Foden, N Tuitavake, L Burrell (R Hutchinson 23), G North; H Mallinder, N Groom (L Dickson 67); A Waller (C Ma’afu 62), D Hartley, K Brookes (G Denman 62); C Lawes, C Day (A Ratuniyarawa 63); J Gibson, T Harrison (T Wood 59), L Picamoles.

Replacements:

M Haywood, C Ma’afu, G Denman, A Ratuniyarawa, T Wood, L Dickson, S Olver, R Hutchinson.

Connacht:

T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, D Poolman, C Ronaldson, C Kelleher (M Healy 3); J Carty, K Marmion (J Cooney 64); D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham (C Carey 67); Q Roux, J Cannon (U Dillane 49); S O’Brien, J Heenan (N Dawai 56), J Muldoon.

Ref- M Raynal (France).


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