PAT LAM HAS a chart on his wall that helps fuel his hope for the latter part of this season.
It’s a fixture list. And written in beside the name of each opponent is the name of an injured player who he hopes to see return in time for that game.
Unfortunately, if he has anyone penciled in alongside “Toulouse (a)”, they are likely to be accompanied by a question mark.
“I know Bundee Aki gets his moon boot off on Monday which is a good thing, but he won’t be ready,” says Lam with an expression that veered from giddy excitement to rueful wince as the sentence wore on.
A foot injury for Denis Buckley will be the first concern for his medical staff this week after the prop was forced off in the first-half of Saturday’s 10-try win over Zebre.
Against a powerful outfit like Toulouse, a fit and ready Buckley would be a major boost for Connacht in their chase for a Champions Cup quarter-final. They’ve already delivered their best pool performance having won four games, but securing the two more points needed to reach the knock-out stage would be an incredible feat for Lam to add to his legacy.
Going in to the final weekend top of the pool, four clear of Toulouse, Lam doesn’t want to mention any scenario other than a win that would put Connacht through to the last eight. But they could scrape through with less.
Assuming Wasps will pick up a bonus point win against Zebre, Connacht will need two points to keep Toulouse behind them in the chase for one of the top two spots. So they will advance to the quarter-finals if:
They win – and a victory with a bonus point would secure top spot in the pool.They draw.They deny Toulouse a try bonus and claim a losing bonus point. OR…They claim both a losing bonus point and a try bonus.
If the teams were to finish level on points in the pool, it would mean Toulouse have won more match points from the head-to-head encounters between the teams (Connacht claimed four points, and Toulouse a losing bonus in Galway in round one) and so the Top 14 side would advance on that basis.
Before all of that comes in to play though, Lam has a week of training for what he has labelled the “biggest game in Connacht’s history.”
Ideally, he would like to have a fit out-half to guide his team around one of Europe’s famous fortresses, but Jack Carty’s knee remains troublesome even if it is not as bad as first feared, so John Cooney may well continue in the number 10 shirt.
“We’ll go through and I’ll have a look at all the guys who are getting back. Ultimately, my main priority is I want that 15, whoever we select, to be training most of the week,” says Lam.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
“Sometimes you’re forced because you just don’t have numbers, but ideally I need everyone to be training during the week because that’s what gives us the confidence.
“That’s the recipe we’ve had. When you get everyone in there, you get competition. It’s difficult when a guy doesn’t train all week and just runs out for the game because that’s when I’ve seen when things haven’t been as accurate as they could be or should be.”
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On big away days in Europe, when both teams have their tournament future on the line, that accuracy must be nothing short of pin-point.
“We need to get everything right, especially on defence (in Toulouse).
“There’s no doubt we scrambled well (against Zebre). But if guys don’t tackle well, some guys fell off tackles and it stresses other guys.
“We need to work hard on that because Toulouse will punish you if you don’t get that right.”
Confidence rekindled as Lam prepares for ‘biggest game of Connacht’s history’