Monday 24 October 2016

Coaching Connacht is like playing for Samoa

Pat Lam

Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30

Pat Lam in action for Samoa during the 1999 Rugby World Cup against Japan at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham
Pat Lam in action for Samoa during the 1999 Rugby World Cup against Japan at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham

There was big disappointment at the final whistle of the Glasgow game on Friday and coming home early the following morning.

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We were gutted not to be top of the table after losing by one point against the champions.

We were frustrated with how the first half panned out but at the break, I didn't have to say too much; we knew we had to get on the right side of the referee after a 6-0 penalty count cost us field position and points in the second quarter.

The boys knew if we focussed on our process and continued to work hard off the ball we would give ourselves a chance.

I am impressed with the maturity shown, especially from a group so young, to turn the game around and push the Warriors so close. It was not the victory we had set out to achieve out, but those two bonus points could prove crucial at the end of a long season.

After our review of the Glasgow game, we trained on Monday but the players have had a few days off since and we'll get back early next week to prepare for Cardiff Blues on October 3 and a busy schedule ahead.

With the break in the Pro12 schedule, I was able to accept an invitation to head over to London this week to take part in the World Cup opening ceremony at Twickenham before the England v Fiji game.


Just being here and involved in the build-up has brought back some awesome memories and reminds me how fortunate I was to play in three World Cups for Samoa.

It is a very special tournament, with the greatest teams and players in the world all in one place and without a doubt it was the highlight of my own rugby career.

World Cups are massive for Samoa. It's like the Olympics, the whole country is watching. Beating Wales in 1991 and reaching the quarter-finals really put the country on the map.

We backed it up in 1995 by reaching another quarter-final, where we were knocked out by eventual winners South Africa. That game even made the cut in Invictus the movie, which was pretty cool to see.

In 1999, against all the odds, we beat Wales again and became the first visiting team to win at the Millennium Stadium.

There are so many similarities playing for Samoa and coaching Connacht. With ambition, belief and by working together you can take on anyone and I'm very privileged and honoured to have been a part of both teams.

How will Samoa go this time? They have some seriously talented players who are involved in professional environments all over the world.

The thing that will separate the contenders from the pretenders, however, are the resources, and the detail in planning and preparation.

The issue usually for Samoa is that when they come in for Test matches preparation is very limited. But the World Cup is an opportunity to get together for a long period of time and you can really build on the culture and clarity.

The quality of Samoa's management team to ensure the players only have to worry about performance on the field will be the big challenge facing them as they try to get out of their tough pool.

If I had to pick the quarter-finalists now, I'd be looking at England and Australia to qualify from the pool of death with Fiji doing some damage along the way.

From Pool B, I see South Africa qualifying and of course I will be backing Samoa.

Pool C will be New Zealand and Argentina, with Tonga causing some upsets.

And then of course, all of us at Connacht will be glued to the games in Pool D and there's no question Ireland will go through, it's whether they go through as first or second.

While supporting Ireland, all of us will be keeping a close eye on Robbie Henshaw and Nathan White. Connacht hasn't had a player in the World Cup since Gavin Duffy in 2007 and before that it was 1999 with Matt Mostyn and Eric Elwood, so it's a very exciting time.

To have Robbie in there is a great credit to all the people around Connacht, the schools, and the clubs. It is part of our whole vision of 'Grassroots to Green Shirts' and we want to make sure there is more and more Connacht players like Robbie coming through so that we play our part in Irish rugby.

Irish Independent

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