Wednesday 17 July 2019

Hard to beat playing but last Friday came close

Connacht coach Pat Lam scores a try for Samoa against Wales at the 1999 World Cup as his side recorded one of the great upsets in the tournament’s history
Connacht coach Pat Lam scores a try for Samoa against Wales at the 1999 World Cup as his side recorded one of the great upsets in the tournament’s history

Pat Lam

Representing Samoa at the opening ceremony of the World Cup last Friday was an awesome experience . . . second only to playing in the competition of course.

The atmosphere at Twickenham before the England versus Fiji game was one of the best I've experienced in that ground and I was delighted to be a part of it.

There is a huge amount of preparation that goes into an event like the World Cup as you would imagine. I was in London from Tuesday to Saturday and for that five-second appearance when I waved to the crowd as they called out Samoa, I had been to two five-hour dress rehearsals on Tuesday and Wednesday.

But it was fantastic to see how a big production like that all came together on the night.

For me, it was one big rugby reunion over in London as I really enjoyed catching up with so many of the guys I played with or against back in the good old days. That we were then treated to such a brilliant opening weekend of World Cup rugby made it even more enjoyable.

It was great to see Ireland put in such a solid display in their opener with Canada. It was a fast-paced 80 minutes and they got plenty of scores in which was pleasing for the first game.

At Connacht, we were all really proud to see Nathan White get his first World Cup cap and Robbie Henshaw shouldn't be too far behind him after recovering from that hamstring niggle.


Samoa had a solid win over the USA and Argentina came close to upsetting New Zealand, but as usual the All Blacks came back to close out the game with a convincing win.

By far, the game of the weekend had to be Japan's win over South Africa. Eddie Jones is a shrewd operator and he had his team well drilled as they came up against the Springboks.

It was a fantastic game to watch as a neutral. Japan showed unbelievable self-belief, especially at the end, when their captain declined more than once to kick for a draw.

They were determined to go for the win. To go through that number of phases in the dying minutes and not make a mistake is a testament to the players and their composure.

It reminded me of the last few minutes of Connacht's win over Toulouse and that feeling of jubilation when they finally got over for that winning try is something special.

That shock win kick-started the World Cup. It has really thrown open Pool B and made the world sit up and take notice.

While Japan have huge resources - just like all the Tier 1 countries - they are a smaller team physically in comparison to the Springboks.

It does show you, however, that if all teams were on a level playing field in terms of resources and management, I believe we'd see more results like this across world rugby.

As the Connacht players came back on Monday after a few days off, we got straight back into our preparations for Cardiff on October 3.

There was a lot of talk about the World Cup games and it was hard to ignore it so we incorporated some of what we saw in the weekend's games into our own previewing and preparation.

We looked at what Japan did well and what other teams could have done better and it helped focus the mind back to our own systems and structures. It was a good week's training in Galway.

We are itching to get back out there and play and what made us even more excited was the Season Ticket Holders Party on Wednesday evening at which the players and management were present.

It was fantastic to meet so many of our supporters - young and old - who will be at games and shouting us on for the season.

We talked a lot about the season ahead and our ultimate goal of Champions Cup rugby.

There was a great deal of discussion about the Challenge Cup after we revealed the new European jersey.

The players will be hoping it generates good heat as they'll be wearing it for the first time when we travel to Siberia to play Enisei-STM in November.

There are five Pro12 games between now and then, so we'll think about Europe when it comes. It may be a cliché but it really is one game at a time.

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