Connacht head coach Pat Lam has called on his team “ to really look hard” at themselves after letting a half-time lead slip against Exeter Chiefs and suffering a 33-24 defeat which could prove fatal to the province’s hopes of qualifying for the Challenge Cup quarter finals.

Speaking to RTÉ Sport, Lam reflected on a desperately disappointing result and said: “When you look at it - four tries to three - one of them an intercept, a penalty count of 13-4, but the big one was 20-plus turnovers.  

“After half-time we had a clear plan of what we needed to do, but we turned over ball three or four times within six minutes, which gave them opportunities and meant we couldn’t get field position.

“The moment we got field position, we got right down there and we scored, but that took a long time to happen.

“We need to really look hard at ourselves, at our performance, as individuals, then as a group and as a team. But it’s not hard to fix.”

Connacht would have gone top of pool two with victory but it is the English Premiership side who will finish top, while Connacht will be hoping for a bonus-point win at La Rochelle next Saturday to make the last-eight as one of the three best runner ups from the five pools.

From being 17-10 in front at the break to falling 30-17 behind early in the second period, Connacht still chased the game until the very end, picking up a try-scoring bonus point and falling just short of a losing bonus point.

“That’s the thing with this group of guys – they’ll never give in. They’ll keep going,” said New Zealander Lam.

“It was a good decision to go for the points and try and get another bonus point, and more importantly, to give us a chance to win the game.

“Unfortunately, we missed a few kicks today and they nailed their kicks, and that scoreboard pressure told in the end.”

Captain John Muldoon echoed Lam’s disappointment and conceded that Connacht’s forwards lost their battle up front with the Chiefs, and ultimately that cost dearly.

“Before the game, and during the week, we said we’d have to be physical up front and we’d have to  match their physicality and we didn’t do that,” said the 32-year-old back row.

“We showed when we got good ball and we gave decent ball to our backs, we outscored them four tries to three but they beat us up front.

“The biggest cliché in rugby is that forwards win the game and that backs decide by how much, and unfortunately their pack won the game.

“It’s disappointing when you score four tries and the manner in which we scored them, it’s very, very disappointing.”