Murray Kinsella reports from Stade Ernest Wallon
WATCHING THE ENDGAME in Toulouse yesterday, it appeared that Connacht weren’t quite certain of exactly what they wanted to do.
There were visits into the home side’s defensive territory in the closing 15 minutes, but it seemed as though Connacht were tangled up in indecision. Go all out for the try or attempt to build a drop goal chance? Or simply keep the ball until a penalty arrived?
Tiernan O’Halloran and James Cannon after the defeat in Toulouse. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Pat Lam’s were caught somewhere in between the three options and instead delivered more of the crippling errors that ultimately meant they missed out on grabbing a first-ever quarter-final.
“We knew,” said fullback Tiernan O’Halloran afterwards when asked what the communication had been like in those final stages, when three points would have earned Connacht a knockout tie.
“A few of the key guys sat down with Pat last night and knew the situation and what would happen in the last five minutes. The big thing was not letting them score another try because if they did we were in big trouble.
“The first focus was on our defensive mentality to keep them out, but the other thing was to try and get our opportunity for three points. It didn’t happen for us that time in their 22, but I don’t think we panicked.
“Even if we’d got the three points we would have had to exit again and they might have got another opportunity. That’s just the way it was but there was never a case where we didn’t know what was happening. We were in control of what the situation was. We just didn’t execute it.”
While the nature of the near miss for Connacht naturally means focus on yesterday’s game, they will have other regrets from their campaign.
With Zebre also in Pool 2, it was always liked that two sides would come out of the group and into the quarter-finals, but Lam’s side slipped at crucial points.
The westerners’ head coach looked back to the 32-17 defeat away to Wasps in round three with regret, his side having failed to notch even a losing bonus point in a “frustrating” match.
Out-half Jack Carty at the final whistle. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
“We were right in that game and we made errors,” said Lam. “And this game here. Besides that, to beat both Wasps and Toulouse shows how far we have come, but we had a realistic chance to win this.
“Dropped balls, errors, wrong systems, things that will hurt us badly and it has been doing that for the last four, five weeks for our team. It’s all learnings.”
Connacht will be tormented by yesterday’s underperformance for a few days yet, but they do see the positives in their European performances this season – namely those wins over Wasps and Toulouse – and took pride from being there thanks to their own efforts.