Defending Guinness PRO12 champions Connacht know they will have a target on their backs this season as they look to defend their maiden title.
Pat Lam’s side overcame Irish rivals Leinster last May at BT Murrayfield, and are now gearing up for the new campaign determined to hit the ground running.
They will head into the new season without three starters from that final, Robbie Henshaw, AJ MacGinty and Aly Muldowney, who have all moved on, while replacement tighthead Rodney Ah You has also moved provinces to Ulster.
However for Lam the individuals are not as important as the whole, and he is confident his team will be ready for the new campaign.
He said: “The second season is always tough, that’s why we’ve been going pretty hard in the first weeks to look at everything and make sure there’s nothing we’ve left out.
“The management and senior players were driving that too, and it’s always tough to back up that Championship, so I have to make sure people prepare as well as I can because I can’t control what they do on the pitch.
“The secret to our success is teamwork, it’s not down to the individual.
“It’s about continuing the way we do things, our culture is about the training week and our preparation. If we do that then we can get better, and we can cope with what other teams can bring, but if we slip in standards then other teams will overtake us. I keep going on about it, but what we do at the Sportsground is massively important.”
In order to cope with those departures Connacht have made some canny signings including the experienced Lewis Stevenson from Exeter, and promising fly-half Marnitz Boshoff from the Lions in South Africa.
And as they battle against teams with bigger budgets, Lam explained that putting faith in youth will only help them in their attempt to retain their crown.
He said: “The reason this was such a highlight for me was because if you put the 12 Guinness PRO12 teams and rank them in order of resources and budget, we would have been and still are 12th, so it’s a real highlight and it’s what rugby is about.
“The whole academy system is all about the developing the individual and I believe there is a lot of talent in Irish rugby, but it’s about what you do to integrate them in the team system.
“The academy is great for building the player, but rugby is not an individual game and they need to know how to maul and defend properly, not just tackling but to be at certain places, with speed under pressure.
“In academies you do a lot of skill stuff, which is all good, but if you’re not putting your part in the team then not all of them put them through.
“I’m working with a lot of guys I’ve worked with before, so there’s a lot of understanding about each other and about what I’m looking to do. If you’re able to retain players, then the development of them you put into them means you want to keep them and the continuity helps that.”