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The Heartbreaking Defeats That Shaped Connacht's Current Success

The Heartbreaking Defeats That Shaped Connacht's Current Success
Conor O'Leary
By Conor O'Leary
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No one would have predicted that Pat Lam would have taken Connacht to the PRO12 playoffs when he took over three seasons ago. Well, no one except for Pat Lam.

The team were stuck in a mire, never getting higher than eighth in the PRO12, and relying on Leinster's achievements in Europe to qualify for the Heineken Cup.

The team have been through some big defeats in their history, but there are seven big ones that you can look back on as turning points. Defeats that you can say - if this didn't happen - lessons wouldn't have been learned, and Connacht wouldn't be preparing for their first PRO12 semi-final on Saturday.

Here are those seven losses.

25-17 v Harlequins, November 11th 2011

The first Heineken Cup game for Connacht. Yes, it was still under Eric Elwood's watch - but getting into the Heineken Cup in the first place was vital for Connacht. It gave their players the exposure to Europe's elite, and it proved to them that they could compete with the best.

They won their first game against Harlequins in their first season, and their Heineken Cup experience certainly accelerated their growth as a team on the up.

13- 9 v Cardiff, September 1st 2012


The result wasn't the biggest story in this game. The opening fixture of the 2012/13 season was more notable for the debuts of academy starlets Kieran Marmion and Robbie Henshaw. It's not a coincidence that Connacht's rise comes as their biggest academy products came into the team.


64-6 v Saracens, January 18th 2014

The first loss on this list under Pat Lam, and it was Connacht's last foray in Europe's elite. Connacht went into this game with three wins in the tournament already, and were in with a chance of qualifying for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

Lam already had an effect on Connacht at this stage, but this defeat was humbling for them. The aftermath seemed bleak, and it even prompted George Hook to call for the IRFU to end Connacht as a team.

21-11 v Leinster, December 19th 2014

The following season started even better for Connacht. They went on an unbeaten run and came to the RDS seeking a first win in Dublin in 12 years.


They trailed for the majority of the game - but seized the initiative with seven minutes to go when George Nauopu scored a try. The conversion was missed and they were trailing by just three points with time and momentum on their side.

But then this happened:


It was a typical moment of shooting themselves in the foot that Connacht kept doing in the 2014/15 season.

16-13 v Edinburgh, January 9th 2015

Just a week previously, Connacht had a famous victory against Munster. It was only their second victory over Munster since 1986, and the first since 2008. Emotions were high after that victory, so to lay an egg the very next week was a sign that they still needed to grow.

Connacht gave up their impressive home record with this loss, and it was this lack of consistency which Lam had to address if he wanted Connacht to grow.


See Also: The Ironic Turning Point That Set Connacht Rugby On The Road To Better Days

18-17 v Cardiff, March 7th 2015

Possibly the most infuriating game of rugby I've ever had the pleasure of watching.

It's perhaps no surprise that Lam was fined after going on a rant about the referee after the game. Connacht had this game won. They were by a distance the better team in the game, but weren't getting the rub of the green with the referee.

Even still, with 80 minutes on the clock, they were six points ahead. The ball was knocked on by Cardiff - the game plays on. Connacht players go over the ball in a legal poach - the referee penalises them. This went on for several minutes - with the Connacht defense not giving an inch. Eventually, a late try by Joaquin Tuculet in the 87th minute consigned Connacht to a defeat.


40-32 v Gloucester, May 24th 2015


What a game of rugby. This was where they announced that they were able to play quick, entertaining, and attacking rugby.

It was an end to end game with Gloucester getting their fair share of help from the referee - which saw them level the scores in the final minute to send the game into overtime.

Connacht managed to reply to Gloucester's first try in extra time - but a length of the field score from Jonny May won it for the English side.

33-32 v Glasgow, September 11th 2015

Connacht went to Glasgow with the aim of beating the vastly understrength Glasgow team - but it was a disaster. Glasgow were shorn of all of their internationals, and gave a number of debuts in this game.

Glasgow went up by three scores early - mainly due to Connacht mistakes like this one:

But this is where we saw the spirit of Connacht. They didn't rest, and brought the score back to within a point. Yes, they lost this game - but they went on an eight match unbeaten run off the back of the belief they showed here getting back into the game.

See Also: Pat Lam Has Done The Impossible And Made George Hook Change His Tune

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