Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam praised his team’s mentality and application after a 27-18 Heineken Champions Cup bonus-point victory over Connacht at the Sportsground.
In an extremely physical contest, Bristol scored four tries through Bryan Byrne, Ed Holmes, Piers O’Conor and Ioan Lloyd, with Callum Sheedy contributing two conversions and a penalty.
Connacht, who were only 5-3 behind at the end of a scrappy first half, crossed twice through Tiernan O’Halloran and John Porch but are out of the quarter-final reckoning after back-to-back pool defeats.
“I’m really pleased, that’s our first Champions Cup win for many years,” said Lam, the former Connacht boss, who has steered Bristol back to Europe’s top-tier competition after a 13-year absence.
“We said at the beginning of the week that it was going to be tough. We got here and saw the conditions, we said it was going to go right to the 80th minute and these guys (Connacht) will keep coming.
“So everyone had to roll their sleeves up and get going and the 23 boys did that, which was awesome.”
Lam picked out the combined impact of his forwards, who were in the ascendancy with some important scrum penalties and a sturdy lineout maul.
“It wasn’t perfect but it was a gutsy effort, particularly up front,” he said. “I thought the forwards were superb. (Forwards coach) John Muldoon was superb there and the same with (scrum coach) Alastair Dickinson with the set-piece. You see the work that those two boys put in and it’s massive.”
Connacht head coach Andy Friend said their discipline let them down in a frustrating loss at home.
Bundee Aki was shown a costly yellow card – Bristol scored 14 points while he was off – and the westerners conceded a high number of penalties.
“Disappointed, frustrated, annoyed, cranky, all of those,” admitted Friend afterwards. “I just didn’t think we played our best footy out there.
“We got caught in an arm wrestle out there that we didn’t want to. I just think we did some dumb stuff out there.
“It is frustrating, but at the end of the day Bristol were the better team out there and you’ve got to give them credit for that.”
Connacht turned down a kickable last-minute penalty which could have earned them a losing bonus point. From the resulting scrum, they were denied a try in the left corner, but Friend said he supported his players’ decision-making.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to trust the players out on the field and if they feel that they’ve got momentum with things and they think they can get over then I’ll back that,” he added.
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