Friday 24 November 2017

'Continuity' key in Connacht's search for a new coach

Connacht head coach Pat Lam. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Connacht head coach Pat Lam. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The disappointment arising from Pat Lam's decision to leave Connacht at the end of the season still lingers around Galway, and while most supporters have come to terms with it, they won't rest easy until a successor with a similarly ambitious vision is put in place.

One thing is for certain, taking over Connacht is a significantly more attractive proposition than it was when the Kiwi first joined in 2013.

It took Lam some time to fully get his philosophy across to the players. In these pages yesterday, John Muldoon offered an interesting insight into the mindset of the squad at the time but that has now shifted towards a burning desire to build on the solid foundations that have been laid.

From speaking to players at the Sportsground recently, it is clear that they are reluctant to move away from the expansive game-plan that ultimately won the province their first-ever trophy and has put them within touching distance of playing in the knockout stages of the Champions Cup for the first time.

Connacht's chief executive Willie Ruane is ambitious and has a long-term plan. He isn't rushing into appointing a successor without careful planning.

Mistakes have been made in the past and Connacht have moved on considerably since those dark days when the club was almost wound up.

Potential coaches will look at the project that Lam undertook four years ago and how far he has taken the club. The feeling in Connacht is that they can aim even higher.

Talks continue over playing in a bigger stadium, while the way in which the squad have coped in Europe with so many injuries, illustrates the strength in depth.

"Maybe a couple of years ago, it might not have been as attractive," backs coach Conor McPhillips says.

"It might have been a bit 'who?' and 'where?' Connacht is on the map now after winning the Pro12, but it's also about the brand of rugby we're playing at the moment; it's exciting.

"It's exciting to coach it, and you can see the supporters are definitely excited by it. It would be a popular job to have. I know Willie and the board are working behind the scenes to get the best guy they see as the best fit for Connacht to continue the good work that Pat has done.

"There will be change, but there needs to be continuity in the way we play. I know the players are happy playing that way, but like anything, a new guy will have new ways and new ideas. It's an attractive prospect."

The key word in McPhillips' astute analysis is "continuity" and everyone involved in the club, from players to supporters, certainly echoes those sentiments.

Having been linked to the vacant position, Tony Brown and Jono Gibbes both ruled themselves out of the running this week. Either of the former All Black duo would have been a fascinating fit.

"The key thing for us, as players, supporters, the people that are supporters of other teams but look on at Connacht in admiration - of which there are lots, and I meet them every day - they've bought into a style of play," Muldoon says.

"Everyone is looking forward as much as the supporters are to finding out who our new coach is. And to work with that person and to see the changes that they will bring. That's the key thing.

"There are many ways to skin a cat. Pat had one way and people before him had other ways and we will be looking forward to the new way.

"When you look at soccer for example, Alex Ferguson stayed in a role for 20-odd years, but every two years he changed his assistant coach to freshen things up and to have new people and new ideas.

"The new coach will come in and build on what Pat's done. Us turning around and kicking the ball 90 times in a match, that's not where we've came from over the last number of years, so we'll be looking to push on and try and get better again.

"It's exciting times ahead in terms of that.

"The job now compared to the job four years ago is a totally different prospect and I am sure a lot of coaches are putting their hands up.

"Four years ago they might have been asking 'Who are Connacht? Where are they? What country are they in?'"

Advancing to the Champions Cup quarter-final on Sunday would certainly heighten the interest levels but Connacht won't bite until they the find the right man for the job.

There is too much at stake for them to do otherwise.

Hogan rings changes

Defeat in Nottingham last weekend has left Leinster A's British and Irish Cup destiny out of their own hands as they go in search of a bonus point win against Richmond this evening (Donnybrook, 7.30) that they will hope proves to be enough

For Leinster to advance to the knockout stages, Nottingham would have to lose away to Scarlets Premiership Select tomorrow, while they would also need one of Yorkshire Carnegie and Cornish Pirates to lose their final pool match as well.

Hugh Hogan's youngsters have been out of sorts of late, losing their last two games, but they will be confident of ending that run against the bottom side in the pool.

Leinster hammered Richmond 68-19 in the opening round and Hogan has made five changes to the side that lost last time out.

Mick Kearney, Peter Dooley, Jeremy Loughman and David Aspil all come into the pack, with Charlie Rock the only change to the backline.

The tournament hasn't quite gone according to plan for a quality young Leinster side but they will be doing everything they can to give themselves a chance of advancing.

Leinster 'A' - B Dardis; H Keenan, J O'Brien, T Daly, B Daly; C Marsh, C Rock; P Dooley, B Byrne, J Loughman; M Kearney, I Nagle; P Timmins (capt), D Aspil, M Deegan. Reps: S McNulty, E Byrne, O Heffernan, P Boyle, N McCarthy, C Frawley, J Larmour.

Irish Independent

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