Sunday 18 February 2018

Rare Lam attitude must be savoured

Connacht head coach Pat Lam congratulates Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw (right) following their victory over Leinster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Connacht head coach Pat Lam congratulates Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw (right) following their victory over Leinster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Joe Molloy

How about this for a novel idea in professional, northern-hemisphere rugby?

"The boys know that I cannot stand running straight into people. They know I've prepped us to have options. I wasn't a big back-rower and the last thing I ever did was run straight into somebody." So said Pat Lam after his Connacht side demonstrated their guts and philosophy on Saturday against Leinster.

Ignoring cries of "kick it" from an anxious home support in the second half, Lam's table-topping men continued to go through the phases, change the point of contact and play with an ambition not evident in their opposition. Lam heard the anxiety in the crowd and said afterwards, "I've asked the boys 'would they rather tackle or run?' They'd rather run'.

It's no wonder Connacht have become the Pro12's entertainers.

In a skewed altering of decades of Irish rugby tradition, there was a worry ahead of kick-off that the wet and windy conditions would favour the more physically-imposing Leinster. But if anything, Connacht's ability to execute their game plan under the difficult circumstances was a telling factor.

What Lam has done out west is quite extraordinary. Their league campaign is arguably the big Irish sporting achievement of 2016 to date. There is no doubting Lam has arrived at the right time. Not least in comparison to 2003 when it looked like the end for the province, they are now being backed aggressively by the IRFU for the first time. Their budget has moved out to a reported €6 million. Lam has also inherited the excellent work of Michael Bradley and Eric Elwood.

One of the lovely things in the past two years has been seeing experienced, much-loved players like John Muldoon buying into the new culture and improving their own skill-set. Lam has famously instructed his players to take a rugby ball everywhere. In a recent chat on the show, he bemoaned the notion that players of a certain age can't improve their skills; he said that received wisdom goes against everything his current group stand for.

What is becoming increasingly and irrefutably clear is that Connacht aren't about to choke. They have a difficult league run-in, not least this weekend away to Ulster, followed by the visit of Munster, but this season has not been built solely on the admirable blood-and-guts approach of old. This team have systems in place. We saw on Saturday how much faith they have in those systems. And crucially, they have momentum.

How many of us felt they'd struggle to hold on when Leinster brought on the big boys at 7-6 with the wind? Not anymore.

Irish Independent

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