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Connacht set objective of finally ending Ravenhill woe

By Michael Sadlier

They're weary of the statistic and, frankly, who can blame them? So, without further ado, here it comes again: Connacht last got the better of Ulster at Ravenhill back in November 1960.

It's a pretty grim record, but the western province have accumulated vast knowledge of having to constantly battle against all the odds both on and off the pitch – with the latest blow being this week's suggestion that star player Robbie Henshaw may have to move province should Joe Schmidt request it.

Usually by this stage of the season a crippling injury list and traditional collapse in form have fully undermined Connacht.

And yet even though the injuries have done their usual – Kiwi lock Craig Clarke has been sidelined indefinitely with concussion, fellow Kiwi back rower Jake Heenan has succumbed to a shoulder injury while prop Brett Wilkinson and centre Kyle Tonetti have been forced to retire – the province's form has lately been attracting attention for all the right reasons.

Since mid-February, Connacht have managed to put together four consecutive PRO12 wins while gleaning bonus points from three of them to lift the side out from the table's dungeon to now find themselves potentially hunting down a sixth place finish.

And yes, these results did come against Edinburgh, Treviso, Zebre and the Dragons but Connacht's usual lack of consistency and self-belief would normally have undone their chances of such a run.

Lately, though, they have been delivering which has brought new focus on the work being done by coach Pat Lam (pictured).

That impressive run came to an end last time out at the Scarlets, where the Welsh side managed to hold on and prevail 32-30.

Though the defeat still racked up two valuable points – from Connacht's fourth successive try bonus, along with that from their losing margin – it did little to calm Lam, who felt that his side were denied a late penalty to potentially win the game.

And Lam has shown a combativeness which is now being mirrored by his side as he also made known his view of the PRO12's refereeing structure and has called for a radical overhaul in this area.

With Connacht battling hard to make the top six – they are currently in eighth and seven points shy of sixth-placed Scarlets – and therefore potentially stay in Europe's top tier for next season's restructured competition, the coach wanted to make his point.

Indeed, after a very shaky start – Connacht lost eight straight PRO12 games after an opening day win over Zebre – the former Samoa international has begun to get some noteworthy results in this, his first season in charge since taking over from the weary Eric Elwood.

The turning point arguably arrived in December when Lam oversaw Connacht's astonishing 16-14 victory at Toulouse in the Heineken Cup. Though the French giants got their revenge the following week at the Sportsground, triumphing 37-9, the belief that the result in France instilled within the squad clearly had the desired impact.

And with quality players on the books such as Henshaw and Kieran Marmion alongside the finishing power of Fionn Carr, the huge experience of Dan Parks and leadership of John Muldoon, Lam's version of the western province has also managed to acquire an inner steel.

For tonight, the coach has opted for the same starting side for the fourth straight game – former Ulster player Willie Faloon's return from injury has been delayed for another week – which could yet take its toll on his threadbare squad.

"We haven't won at Ravenhill in 54 years so this is our chance to make history. This is what we play rugby for, to go up against it and beat the odds," said Lam.

They'll give their all to buck the trend again and finally be rid of this troublesome statistic.

Belfast Telegraph


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