Sunday 23 October 2016

History doesn't favour Connacht in derby date but Lam's men are now different prospect

Connacht's Bundee Aki could be in the frame for Saturday
Connacht's Bundee Aki could be in the frame for Saturday

Cardiff Blues snapped Connacht's streak of six wins in the PRO12 League in round nine at the start of the month.

Then, Newcastle Falcons did likewise to prevent Connacht from making it four in a row in the Challenge Cup.

This would be enough to bring most clubs smashing back down to earth.

For one whose collective feet have never left the ground, that won't be a problem any time soon.

Coach Pat Lam knows his province, flying high in second, won't get ahead of itself as they host fifth-placed Ulster in a typically inviting Christmas special in Galway on St Stephen's Day.

For instance, Connacht have beaten their northern neighbours just once in their last 18 attempts, in Galway in April 2012.

"You can look at our history against Ulster and only one win in nine seasons," warned Lam.

"But, the main priority is to focus on the process of how we are going to beat this Ulster team."

Their unfavourable history did not impede their demonstration of courage and skill to outmanoeuvre Munster at Thomond Park.

That was one hoodoo impressively overcome.

"Our win over Munster just reinforces the idea of focusing on the process and not the occasion," said the coach of the moment.

"Of course, there is emotion after the game because these derby games have an extra bite to them and its neighbours against neighbours so it means that bit more once the job is done."

For all of the money spent elsewhere, the Clan Terrace gives the best bang for buck anywhere on this island.

Connacht have won all five home matches in the PRO12 and both in The Challenge Cup.

The Sportsground is a fortress with which to be reckoned.

Nonetheless, the manner of Ulster's double over Toulouse gave voice to their explosive attack and improving, suffocating defence.

"We know we have to be extremely accurate or they will punish us," stressed Lam.

"Nailing our detail and being clinical for 80 minutes will be crucial.

"We have to be so detailed in every training session and every meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same page and in a position to execute the game plan we believe can win us the game."

Whether the announcement yesterday that Nick Williams will leave Ulster for Cardiff Blues in the summer is the first sign of a Les Kiss clear-out is uncertain.

There does seem to be a rational in losing an overseas player unable to last the full 80 minutes, though the New Zealander's impact can still be felt.

What has always been the case is that Galway holds no fear for Ulster.

Why would it? They nearly always get what they want from it.

Maybe not this time.

Connacht are the top try-scorers in the PRO, registering 27 in nine rounds, exactly three-per-game, in what is an attractive brand of rugby.

They could also have all or some of Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Tiernan O'Halloran, Kieran Marmion and AJ McGinty back in the frame for this one.

"This fixture traditionally attracts some of our biggest crowds of the season and with the game nearly a sell-out, this weekend won't be any different," said Lam

"It's all set up for a great night so we need to make sure we give our supporters something to shout about."

Connacht v Ulster, Live Saturday (ko 6.00) TG4

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