European Challenge Cup: Connacht boss Pat Lam proud despite exit

Connacht boss disappointed at defeat, but praises his young players as their attention now returns to finishing in the PRO12 top six

Pat Lam was full of praise for his young Connacht side as their European Challenge Cup dream ended with a 14-7 defeat to Gloucester at Kingsholm on Friday night.

The Connacht head coach was disappointed with the quarter-final result, but was pleased that his side gave the English club an almighty scare in the closing stages.

We missed some chances, but to be still fighting hard at the end to get into extra time, I believe it’s a credit to the guys and their refusal to give up

Pat Lam on Connacht’s defeat to Gloucester

The home side surged to a 14-0 half-time lead with tries from Charlie Sharples and Bill Meakes both coming from two defence-shredding plays by Wales outside-half James Hook.

Connacht threw everything at the Cherry and Whites in the second half with a penalty try giving the Irish province hope of snatching a result.

But the Cherry and Whites held out to earn a home semi-final against Exeter Chiefs on 18 April.

“One thing I never doubt with these guys is that they never give up and they keep going hard,” Lam told Connachtrugby.ie

“We know in the first half we didn’t exit well, we let in two soft tries – bit of a lucky bounce of the ball for one of them.

“But we spoke at half-time about raising the intensity and being more ruthless with our execution.

“We missed some chances, but to be still fighting hard at the end to get into extra time, I believe it’s a credit to the guys and their refusal to give up.

“We’ve a young group of guys, who are looking to take this team forward, and the experience of this sort of knock-out game will hold them in good stead.”

Lam can now focus all of his attention on cementing Connacht’s position in the top six to earn a return to Europe’s top tier next season.

We’ve beaten Leinster and Munster at home this season so it would also be really special to create a little bit of Connacht history with three interpro wins.

Pat Lam on Connacht’s Guinness PRO12 run-in

The Galway-based club are currently sixth on points difference from Edinburgh, but the Scots have the added distraction of a Challenge Cup semi-final against Newport Gwent Dragons at BT Murrayfield on Friday 17 April.

The Scarlets are also in the mix, but have to travel for three of their last four matches, while three of Connacht’s matches will be at the Sportsground, starting with the visit of second-placed Ulster on Saturday.

“We gave it all for this one against Gloucester, but we came up short,” Lam added.

“We must park it now and move our attention back to the PRO12 where our destiny is still in our hands.

“We have Ulster coming to Galway in a few days’ time and it’s an exciting game considering we really need the win.

“We’ve beaten Leinster and Munster at home this season so it would also be really special to create a little bit of Connacht history with three interpro wins.

“There are only four games to go, so we’re trying to get as many guys back fit and ready to go for what are four big games – three of them at home at the Sportsground.

“We’ve only lost once at home in the PRO12 so we’ve got to have a really good week’s preparation and be ready for Saturday for a massive game in front of our home fans.”

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