Connacht’s long-cherished hopes of a first ever trophy will be on the line when they face Grenoble on Saturday.
“We set our goals at the start of the year. (Playing) Champions Cup rugby is one of them, and the other one is the Challenge Cup and we want to win that one as well, “ says Connacht coach Pat Lam ahead of Connacht’s European quarter-final in France.
“The carrot is a home semi-final here at the Sportsground which would be fantastic for our supporters, but our performance will determine that and it’s on the line this week. Win and we get another game.”
However, Lam says Connacht is not getting carried away by silverware just yet.
“We go back to one game at a time, and the process that has allowed us to focus on each game. This game is no different from playing Ulster last week, it’s another chance, and opportunity to perform as a team. The season is coming to an end and we see every game as an opportunity to play together, and so we are all excited by this.”
The Connacht connection in Grenoble adds an extra dimension with both Bernard Jackman and Andrew Farley having played at the Sportsground - and both were involved in Connacht’s victory over the French side to qualify for the semi-finals in 2005.
“When we look at Grenoble, they are not the normal French team. They have Bernard Jackman as their head coach, and they like to move the ball, so it is going to be an exciting game, a pretty fast game, I would say. We enjoy travelling to France, but it’s just another game to us, a chance to play someone different, and in a different competition. But looking at them playing, it’s going to be cracker of a game and the forecast is looking good.”
And Lam has identified a couple of plays in Jackman’s game that look familiar.
“I have seen a couple of things that look familiar, there’s one in particular, which I came up with when coaching Auckland. We all learn off each other, and appreciate some things work, but I think the biggest thing Bernard has done a good job with, and they are very similar, is the mind set - ball turned over and if it’s on, they’ll have crack, and that is why defence is going to be crucial. There are really good shapes in both teams, but it is going to come down to the players on the day executing the right decision and then executing the skill, and if you don’t, and the other team gets a chance, they’ll have crack and you have to get the shape in defence real fast. So if the weather stays the way it is forecast, it will be a fantastic game.”
Grenoble, currently in eighth place, two off the top six in the French championship, have won their last three games to put them in a strong position for the last five fixtures.
“They know this is also their opportunity, particularly where they are compared to where we are, of getting Champions Cup because the winner of this gets automatic entry. So we knew they will go full strength, and we will go as strong as possible.”
Connacht will head to Grenoble with some improvements to their injury list. Scrum-half Kieran Marmion has recovered fully from a quad strain, while Jake Heenan is available after an ankle injury. However, there is no change in the availability of other key players, full-back Tiernan O’Halloran, out-halves AJ MacGinty and Jack Carty, centres Craig Ronaldson and Rory Parata, and prop Nathan White.
And Lam says it is “fantastic” that Paul O’Connell has been helping Grenoble in their preparations for this game.
“We all know the legend of the player he is, and now he’s in transition that I went through. For him to go to Grenoble, he’s good friends with Mike Prendergast, and when I started my coaching career, I met with different people - friends and mates along the way, so I think it’s great for him. It would be different if he was from Connacht, but he’s a Munster man, so it’s perfectly fine, great.”
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