ONE GOT THE feeling that Connacht captain Craig Clarke was uncomfortable speaking about the flu epidemic that swept through his team in the lead up to their 37-9 defeat to Toulouse.
Having shocked the four-time Heineken Cup champions in France last weekend, the westerners were fiercely unlucky to be visited by a bout of collective sickness. Clarke lifted the Super Rugby title — his second in two years — with the Chiefs in August. Win, lose or draw, it is hard to imagine talk of flu poleaxing the likes of Liam Messam or Sam Cane.
“It’s tough because we don’t want to take anything from Toulouse and the fact that they performed really well,” said Clarke. “Sure, our week was affected slightly by it. We obviously didn’t do as much on our feet — some guys didn’t do anything — but we had 23 guys who stripped and were given a job to do. We may have been slightly off but we still had a job to do and weren’t able to do it.
It’s a bit of both. I don’t want to make an excuse for it. It may have played a factor but I don’t think we would have won if we were fully fit anyway.”
Connacht’s away win arrived courtesy of every player knowing their role and each man stepping up the tackle count. The Connacht scrum and maul worked well, the breakdown was a joy to behold and their backline got in behind the Toulouse midfield. Little went to plan in Galway.
Connacht missed 30 tackles and gave up 15 turnovers and the French side, with Maxime Medard and Louis Picamoles looking world-class again, were always going to make them pay.
Matt Healy and Sean Henry at the final whistle. INPHO/James Crombie
“They played like the Toulouse of old; like the side we’re used to,” said Clarke. “They made some serious changes to their game. They probably got a bit of a serve during the week and they were physical, they carried hard, had line-speed and were physical in defence.
“We certainly had chances early on in the game; we chipped away and got some points. We were a little inaccurate as well and off the boil in terms of the physicality of our defence. There were a couple of errors that let them build pressure.”
He added, “To go from the high of last week to the disappointment of a 28-point deficit is [tough] but it wasn’t through lack of effort.” Although Clarke hobbled off with a thigh injury, he expects to be fit for the return to league action. Craig Ronaldson [hamstring] lasted two minutes after replacing Parks and will be out for at least two weeks.
The squad will be given Monday off as they look to shake off the last of the virus that cost them dearly. Training will begin in earnest, on Tuesday, for what the captain called the bread and butter — namely Newport Gwent Dragons at the Sportsground.
“We’re bottom of the league, it’s a simple fact. How we go about changing that is bottling what we did last weekend and some of the things we did tonight and putting it on the track. If we can do that, then the table will look after itself. If it doesn’t — if we have more of the Edinburgh results and those falters — we’ll stay there.”
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