Wednesday 21 February 2018

'We're in a fickle job, it's pro rugby'

Hot property Lam hints his head could be turned as Bath head list of suitors

Connacht head coach Pat Lam Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Connacht head coach Pat Lam Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Pat Lam has embedded himself so thoroughly into the fabric at Connacht that it is difficult to envisage the place without him.

Yet, as he said himself yesterday: "Mate, we're in a fickle job, it's professional rugby and you don't know what's around the corner."

The former Samoa captain's stock could not be higher right now and his work in the westernmost out-post of European rugby has not gone unnoticed elsewhere.

In England, his name is being linked with the new vacancy at Bath, who parted company with Mike Ford on Monday and, after the success he has achieved in three years in Galway, the mega-rich English Premiership club won't be the last of his suitors.

This morning, the former Auckland coach will be part of a four-man party who will launch the province's 'Vision and Strategy' for the next four years at the Aviva Stadium. Alongside him will be chief executive Willie Ruane, club and communities manager Eric Elwood and Academy chief Nigel Carolan; all born and bred in the province.


While they are all playing a role in Connacht's rise to becoming title contenders, there is no doubt that Lam's arrival in 2013 was a pivotal moment.

The 47-year-old has changed the province's on-field identity, transformed their mentality, worked on their off-field culture and brought with him a knowledge of the game in New Zealand and the powers of persuasion that have allowed him to recruit cleverly from his old base.

When asked about the vacancy in Bath, Lam was coy yesterday. He is under contract until 2018, but gave a vague reference to "clauses" in his deal and spoke about the "fickleness" of the professional game.

He may well have been referencing Ford, who this time last year won the Premiership's Director of Rugby of the Year award - an achievement mirrored by Lam in the Pro12 this season.

This summer, the province will lose their most marketable asset in Robbie Henshaw, one of their most influential on-field generals in Aly Muldowney and an Ireland prop in Rodney Ah You.

They have players on the way in, but with success bringing an increased contribution to the Ireland squad and their rivals set to be stronger next season, there is no guarantee that they can scale the heights again.

So, if Bath come in with their seemingly limitless resources, Lam would be only human if his head was turned.

"I'm in a job," he said. "I admire all head coaches. It's a tough job because we get scrutinised for everything and a lot of people don't know what we do during the week. It's outcome-based.

"It's a fickle job. When I got sacked by the (Auckland) Blues, I remember coming home and telling some mates, 'Jeez, I've got great news. I've finally joined a lot of top coaches who've been sacked.' It was one thing that hadn't happened to me, so it was good.

"That's the professional game. It happened to me as a player when Newcastle sold me to Northampton. I wasn't happy, but it was a blessing in disguise because Ian McGeechan bought me and I learnt a lot from him.

"There's two types of job: jobs you have to do and jobs you love to do. I'm fortunate enough to be doing a job I love to do.

"Where that would be? I totally understand that I've got two more years here. I know there's clauses and all that sort of stuff, but ultimately if I look too far ahead, you've all sorts going on in front. Mate, we're in a fickle job, it's professional rugby and you don't know what's around the corner."

Lam knows well how quickly perceptions can turn.

"I had nine years coaching in New Zealand," he recalled. "My home team both times, with Auckland we won two national championships. One where we broke a record and it's still the only team that went right through the season undefeated.

"Then I went to Super Rugby and I got the Blues to a semi-final for the first time in years. Yet I am only remembered for my last year (2012).

"Ironically that last year was my best year as far as my development as a coach goes. That lesson there was I would never ever take another job unless the organisation was aligned, unless they had a clear vision about what they wanted do.

"When you know you have got your CEO, your team manager, two of my assistant coaches, a legend of Connacht rugby running the domestic game (Elwood), Nigel Carolan, all of those guys played for Connacht so there is no doubt they are passionate running this place.

"I am in a real privileged place where I am and where I work at the moment. There is so many people working towards getting them to here."

Today, Lam will be part of a team looking beyond this season, tomorrow he'll be back on the training ground and living in the now as his team put their final pieces together in their bid to make history by reaching the Pro12 final.

He has been good for Connacht and Connacht has been good for him. However, the strength of that relationship may be in for a test in the weeks to come.

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