Lam happy to carry weight of expectation at Connacht
New Connacht coach Pat Lam has admitted he is under pressure to deliver results in his maiden season – but he wouldn't have it any other way. And the Kiwi knows they could face a tricky opening encounter against a Zebre side still looking for their first ever win.
"I know they're going to be desperate for a win. We know that, it has been a long time for them, so we know what's coming," he said.
He admitted he and his coaching staff had done as much homework as they could about Saturday's opposition, but with Zebre overhauling their coaching team also in the close season, it would be pointless looking at how the Italian outfit had played last year. Lam said that there is pressure on every coach to deliver results and he knows there is an expectation in Connacht.
"That's the nature of the job, no matter where you go in the world. It's probably worse in New Zealand. Coaches put their heads on the line and you can't control that – it's more wasted energy."
Lam has used 40 players in pre-season friendlies in an effort to establish the most effective combinations. For Saturday's clash at the Sportsground, however, he will have to do without long-term injury victims Dave McSharry, Kyle Tonetti and Mata Fifita, while a number of other players are carrying niggles from the early-season match-ups.
He is loath to make predictions about how the season may unfold, but makes no secret of his desire to top last season's eighth-place finish.
"What Eric (Elwood) did last year in getting to eighth was massive. But we can't focus on that. We want to get better. It's about the performance we put on every weekend," he said.
Meanwhile, Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill has challenged the authorities to crack down on acts of foul play involving head injuries after seeing his captain and fly-half, Toby Flood, ruled out of the champions' first match at the Aviva Premiership against Worcester on Sunday.
Flood was knocked out after receiving a blow from Ulster lock Dan Tuohy during last weekend's friendly.
Cockerill said: "It wasn't a hand-off, it was a forearm smash, and if they are serious about concerns over concussion then they have to deal with these sort of things.
"Somebody leading with their elbow and smashing a bloke straight in the face is what they should be concerned about rather than being worried about people saying naughty words," added Cockerill, who is serving a nine-game match-day ban for abusing an official over another incident involving a head injury to Flood during last season's Premiership final against Northampton at Twickenham.
"It is these sort of things that will stop little Johnny coming to mini-rugby on a Sunday morning."