Thursday 27 July 2017

'Pat's departure could be a positive thing for Connacht'

Stuart Lancaster recognises Bristol's potential, despite them being winless and at the foot of the Premiership Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Stuart Lancaster recognises Bristol's potential, despite them being winless and at the foot of the Premiership Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

According to reports in England, Stuart Lancaster was one of Pat Lam's main rivals for the Bristol gig but yesterday, the former England coach was keen to stress that he "never had one conversation with anyone from the club".

That may well be the case but it will be fascinating to see if the same scenario occurs when Connacht and the IRFU sound out the viable replacements for Lam.

Lancaster is likely to be in the frame: the bookies have already installed him among the favourites to take over the Westerners.

His agreement with Leinster runs until the end of the season and there remains no clarity on whether he will still be with the province after his contract expires.

Lancaster has had a really positive impact since he joined Leo Cullen's backroom staff, and the noises coming from the players have been resoundingly positive. He is, however, an ambitious coach and surely wants another crack at being the main man.

"I'm keen to continue on what I am doing here," Lancaster said before a cautionary note: "We will see how it plays out. We have yet to have those conversations because for me the focus is just about the here and now.

Business

"I learned a while ago that you operate on a day-to-day basis in this business now. My focus is firmly on today and getting this team ready to play Northampton on Friday because it is a big two games for us."

Lancaster may never have been in the running for the Bristol job but he certainly understands the potential of the club, despite them being winless and rooted to the foot of the English Premiership table.

There is still time for the club to turn their fortunes around this season but the likelihood is that Lam's first objective will be to steer them back to the top flight - a task that Lancaster knows all too well, given his first season in charge of Leeds Carnegie in 2006/07.

"He's walking into a very good club. It's got a fantastic history and tradition and a very strong supporter base," Lancaster explained.

"Rugby is passionately supported in the Bristol area so it is a very good fit from that point of view. He will really enjoy the club. The club is very well set up.

"They have got great honour and they have got a good group of lads. I have been in the position that Bristol were in, where you get promoted to the Premiership on the final game of the season and you are trying to recruit and become competitive in the Premiership, and all the talent has been signed up.

"You either trust the players who got you up or you try to recruit new players. It's very difficult to make that step but Bristol have got more and more competitive as the competition has gone on. They've only just lost this weekend.

"I know Jordan Crane really well, the captain. I used to coach him in my (Leeds) academy and I texted him the other day. He says the players are still tight. So he (Lam) is walking into a good set-up.

"He's got a chance to build something that can be sustainable in the short-term and the long-term, and that is what Pat has obviously done at Connacht, so he seems a great fit."

While Lam's departure is undoubtedly a major blow for Connacht and indeed Irish rugby as a whole, the former Samoa captain leaves the club in a far better place than it was in when he first rocked up three years ago.

The timing of yesterday's announcement could hardly have been worse however, with Connacht preparing for a crucial back-to-back Champions Cup meeting with Wasps. Bristol are likely to have accelerated the process.

Lancaster however doesn't believe that it will have an adverse effect on the morale within the squad, despite Bundee Aki taking to Twitter to declare that he was "Feeling pissed".

"I think it will have a positive effect really," Lancaster said.

Perception

"My perception would be everyone in Connacht, supporters and players included, would recognise that at some point coaches do move on and they will want to do their very best to make sure he has the best send off possible.

"I don't think it will be negative. I think they will rally around. They will want make sure he finishes the season on a high and do everything that he has done proud and finish the season for him well. I think he'll go with a shake of everyone's hand really.

"Yeah there is an inevitable 'What does that mean?' question and I'm sure Connacht won't be long in addressing that.

"But players need to deal with the here and now. It's one thing worrying about the future holds but if you don't look after the here and now, the future tends to take care of itself.

"I think they are professional enough to know there will be change. But if Connacht get their decision-making right, it could be a positive change."

Lancaster has been very clever in the way he has gone about rebuilding his reputation since overseeing England's disastrous World Cup campaign last year.

There is no doubting his credentials and the fact that he is already within the IRFU's system may well see him as a potential candidate to succeed Lam.

Lancaster's immediate focus is on Northampton but given that we are at the point of the season when contracts are being negotiated, rest assured that behind the scenes, he is planning his next step. Time will tell if that is with Leinster or beyond.

Irish Independent

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