Tuesday 20 February 2018

Lam's flair and success making life awkward for rival coaches


Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during squad training. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during squad training. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Why can't we play like Connacht? It is a simple question with an all-too complex answer and an uncomfortable one for almost everyone in Irish rugby except for Pat Lam.

If Ireland don't perform in South Africa, it is a question that will be asked of Joe Schmidt, who selected just five members of the western province's swashbuckling side for the summer tour - and one of them can't even make Lam's match-day 23.

It is something Leinster fans wondered as they left Murrayfield stunned by their own team's inept performance, while it must have crossed the minds of Munster and Ulster supporters watching on.

Connacht are making everyone else look bad.

What Lam has achieved in the last three years is remarkable. To turn the fourth province into the first, he has mixed clever recruitment and good coaching to produce a game-plan that coaches routinely describe as being very hard to counter.

A host of players have improved on the Samoan's watch, none more so than the back three, who scored all of the Westerners' tries on Saturday.

This afternoon, Schmidt will give his pre-summer tour press conference, and top of the agenda is his decision to overlook Tiernan O'Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy when he named his squad last week. One wonders how he felt watching them out-play Rob Kearney, Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald, who will all be in camp this week.

Before the defeat to Grenoble, flanker Eoin McKeon voiced his opinion that players from the west have to do more to get Ireland recognition, and it is hard to argue with him.

And it is not just the selection of Lam's players that will be used against Schmidt, but the fact that the new Pro12 champions are a joy to watch in how they attack from everywhere, with liberal use of the off-load.

For all that he attempted to move his side's attacking game on during the Six Nations, Ireland remain a team who rely on their aerial game, relentless rucking and strike moves to unlock defences.

That is in stark contrast to the wide-wide approach from Connacht, who treat every possession as an opportunity, refusing to kick and instead threatening from everywhere, whether it was kick-returns, the exploitation of one-on-one situations or the trust their off-loading game.

When he took over at Leinster, Leo Cullen said he wanted to restore 'the Leinster way' which many felt was diminished during the two years Matt O'Connor occupied the hot-seat at the RDS.

Yet, when the goodwill towards Connacht's approach that was so evident among those in blue in Edinburgh subsides, they will begin to wonder when they last saw a Leinster team look as dangerous as the team that beat them.

They will look back to 2012 and wonder what happened.

Given they supply the majority of the Ireland team and have an academy bursting at the seams with prodigious talent, they are entitled to wonder about their side's attacking game.

And, if Connacht are able to win the league in such style, fans of Munster and Ulster are entitled to wonder why their teams are enduring a long run without a trophy.

None of this is Lam's problem as he signs off for 2015/16. He can head off on his holidays content at a job well done.

Everyone else will wonder what they have to do to catch up.

Irish Independent

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