Sunday 25 February 2018

IRFU blocked my son playing for free – Pat Lam

Connacht coach's attempt to bring in cover during injury crisis gets shot down

Connacht head coach Pat Lam. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Connacht head coach Pat Lam. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Pat Lam has revealed that the IRFU have turned down a request from Connacht to allow his son Mitch play for free with the province in the midst of a serious injury crisis.

The revelation will raise eyebrows around the country after the IRFU's performance director David Nucifora just this week granted Munster permission to keep Springbok centre Jaco Taute at the province despite already having All Black Francis Saili on their books.

Ultan Dillane was the latest name to be added to the injury list yesterday, with an ankle injury expected to sideline the second-row for at least five weeks, but Connacht are also facing the prospect of playing the Ospreys on Saturday without a recognised out-half in their squad.

Deputy scrum-half Caolin Blade has been running at No 10 in training this week.

South African signing Marnitz Boshoff is out until March and with Craig Ronaldson and Shane O'Leary still not fully fit, Connacht's plight worsened this week after Jack Carty suffered a calf injury during his first inclusion with the Ireland squad.

Mitch Lam has already played for the Connacht Eagles - a side made up of club and Academy players - this season but the IRFU stood firm against the province's approach to allow him temporarily line out for the first team.

"It was just turned down by the IRFU because he is a foreigner," Lam said. "Mitch was going to cost nothing, he's my son so I wasn't going to charge Connacht Rugby.

"We only needed somebody for three weeks because O'Leary is not far around the corner. Craig Ronaldson is not far so it is just to cover off the injuries. All the new guys who have come in need three or four weeks to know our calls.

"It's a language the way we play. That was the whole purpose of asking Mitch to come up here because you have to know the plays so I was just preparing for this situation.

"But that's fine. I think all of the provinces, they have to go through the processes and ask the question. Straight away the answer was no.

"So we just train Caolin Blade, train Rory Parata, because at least they know the calls. Tiernan O'Halloran steps in there just in case we cover it, and Danie Poolman has had to step in to 12. It is better to have some guys there."

"We could get a possible Irish 10 who is playing club rugby but he would still need the three-week window," Lam added.

"We need somebody here and now, because for the last three weeks we have no O'Leary, Ronaldson, Boshoff. Hopefully O'Leary is not too far away next week so that will help ease the situation. It's only to cover for the three weeks."

Lam also confirmed that Dillane will see a specialist to address the injury that leaves him in a race to be fit for the Six Nations.

"Minimum he is out five to six weeks," Lam admitted. "When you do a high-ankle sprain, it's either surgery to tighten it up or you do the conservative and just go for the rehab."

Captain John Muldoon has also been ruled out of the trip to Swansea with a hamstring injury picked up in training, while flanker Nepia Fox-Matamua joins the unavailable list after dislocating a rib in the weekend home loss to Munster.

Irish internationals Finlay Bealham and Matt Healy are also doubts for this weekend with stomach bugs.

With over two dozen players injured or being rested, Lam has had insufficient numbers to train properly with backs coach Conor McPhillips, a 35-year-old former Connacht winger who retired in 2009, having to step in as an out-half in training moves.

"Last week we had a midfield back-line for the Munster attack, of (props) Dave Heffernan and Shane Delahunt who were running 12 and 13 last week. We had more forwards running out in the backs.

"We just needed to get some sort of thing but obviously they don't have the same finesse or intricacies of how to play the midfield. But that's just making do with what you have and trying to adapt," said Lam.

Irish Independent

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