Connacht 'shocked' at Lam's departure
Westerners start search for new coach as Kiwi heads for Bristol
Connacht are on the hunt for a new coach after Pat Lam's shock departure for Bristol was confirmed yesterday.
The departure of the man who guided the province to their first Guinness Pro12 title has left the squad and hierarchy in shock, with centre Bundee Aki expressing his anger when he tweeted "feeling p***ed" after the news was announced.
The centre was unaware of his coach's plans when he signed a new three-year deal to pledge his future to the province in October. It was Lam who convinced the prospective Ireland international to move to Galway in the first place, and his presence would have played a role in the Kiwi signing on again.
Lam will more than double his salary by signing a €500,000-a-year three-season deal at mega-rich Premiership strugglers Bristol, who have yet to win a game this season.
He saw off competition from former Springbok boss Heyneke Mayer and ex-Leinster supremo Matt O'Connor for the role.
Lam had a year to run on the contract he signed in January last year, but leaves with the blessing of chief executive Willie Ruane, who he informed of his decision over the weekend.
The players learned of the move yesterday morning and Ruane held meetings with senior players throughout the day to determine the next steps.
"They were shocked, that's the truth," Ruane said on Newstalk last night.
"It came as a bit of a bolt out of the blue for all of them. One or two of them might have heard a little rumbling over the weekend but for the vast majority of them, they had no sense that this was coming.
"Like any guy that has a coach like Pat and a figure as strong as Pat, it would have been a shock for them. I don't mind saying it, we were a little taken aback by it but as the day has gone on, they have had time to digest it.
"Bundee wants to be playing on a winning team that plays good rugby and that has a very good coach. We all want that and none of that changes. It just might be a different coach. That's professional sport."
Grenoble coach Bernard Jackman and Academy supremo Nigel Carolan lead the early betting for Lam's replacement, but the province have yet to get in touch with prospective candidates.
Although the news breaking in December affords them some time, there are no major names emerging from the Southern Hemisphere market, where much of the business for 2017 is done.
Connacht CEO Willie Ruane has admitted that the province's preference is to replace Pat Lam with an Irish coach but that nationality will not be the deciding factor.
"You'd like to have a quality Irish coach come through but first and foremost, they need to be quality. If now is the time, great. If it's not now, then so be it," Ruane said.
"Everyone in Connacht Rugby is ambitious to achieve right now. It would be great if we can get a coach who plays a very ambitious, attractive style of rugby, winning rugby and at the same time is Irish. But you may not be able to tick all those boxes in the one go."
Meanwhile, Johnny Sexton will miss Leinster's Champions Cup clash against Northampton on Friday due to a hamstring injury and is likely to be ruled out until the new year. The out-half will again spend time in the Santry Sports Clinic this week as he looks to overcome the issue that ruled him out of Ireland's win over Australia.
However, Leinster are hopeful that Rob Kearney and Robbie Henshaw (both concussion) will be fit enough for the trip to Franklin's Gardens, but Sean O'Brien is unlikely to make it.
"We are pretty optimistic on Rob and Robbie," senior coach Stuart Lancaster said.
"They have gone through the protocols successfully and will be training today. Johnny is ongoing with his rehab and I think he is less likely."