Initial disappointment and frustration quickly turned to empathy. As a coach, you examine the work he has done, the progress he has made, the culture he has created. The reward for that work is recognition in the guise of other clubs knocking on the door. Isn’t that what we do in life? Let’s call a spade a spade: We work hard, we get better, you take a down-at-heel organisation and turn them into winners. And then you get an offer that’s hard to refuse.
Lam has reshaped Connacht’s culture, their history and how they are perceived. There’s only so many times a wealthy organisation like Bristol will call before a coach starts putting his family, his future and their long-term security first.
Pat Lam was fired by Auckland. He came to Connacht as a sacked coach. That’s something everyone must factor into their perception of this decision. Hence the Anthony Foley reference from Lam this week. Lam has to take care of his kin.
That doesn’t change the fact that it’s hugely disappointing for Connacht because Lam has created such a positive aura in the west. It’s a genuine feelgood story not in pure rugby terms but in spirit and pride and all those good things you find in rural Ireland. He has given Connacht hope, a commodity often in short supply when it came to rugby. He bought into the culture and the people. It might be cheesy to some, but he didn’t have to get the few words as Gaeilge, but it helped. People warmed to him. Day-dreaming in Bordeaux, there was a bit of me angry initially as a supporter of Irish rugby, especially as Connacht has found form these last few weeks.
I pulled up the PRO12 final on YouTube this week (research purposes, of course), and for the first 25 minutes against Leinster, the rugby Connacht played was sensational. That was the definition of backing a game plan and producing it on the biggest stage. They ripped Leinster apart when the manual says debutants must think of tight defence in the first quarter of a cup final.
Mike Prendergast in Grenoble was discussing Lam this week with Mossy Lawlor, who’s working in Connacht, and got that real sense of this squad being an extension of their coach and his values. Lam will be a sore loss for Connacht, irrespective of who they get in to replace him.
onnacht haven’t been in touch with me. Even if they had, it’s just too early for me to consider something like that at home. I don’t want to give up what we have at Racing at this stage, I am too interested in it, too much invested in it just to up sticks.
Racing were in the final of the European Cup and won the Top 14 last season. It doesn’t get much better than that. And that didn’t materialise overnight, more than three years work has gone into that. I am 39 now. I have time. If I was going home to Ireland, it mightn’t even be for coaching. Nobody should pigeon-hole themselves into career boxes.
There appears to be this pre-ordained career path for myself that has directed me to France to learn my trade before a certain team in Ireland comes calling. I am not even thinking of any such job, because that’s not where my head’s at.
If the sad events of recent times tell us anything it’s that you only control one day: That’s today. Chances are my career won’t work out the way people perceive it. Indeed I am pretty sure — sure as anyone can be — that it won’t. If I am asked, I will go where there’s a project that interests me.
My job now is getting Racing 92’s players to perform. Other people decide how well I do my job. For Pat Lam, Bristol decided he was doing just the sort of job they required to move forward. And they were ready to pay big for the pleasure. It was an opportunity the New Zealander had to take.
Every day there are opportunities and challenges we are blind-sided by. When I heard that the British and Irish Lions were looking at a “left-field” coaching addition to their management, that vanity had me wondering and a little excited for a few hours. I heard nothing, and in reality, nor did I expect to.
It’s something I’ve studied a lot this year. How to stop getting ahead of ourselves. Coping with success is a thesis in itself, Racing 92 has found that this season. The journey and the destination.
Clermont-Auvergne has shown in recent seasons it excels on the journey without yet reaching its destination. If there is one Champions Cup game I’d like to be at this weekend, it’s their trip to Ravenhill to play Ulster. Clermont are the top team in France as things stand, but they’ve lost two of the last three weeks to Bayonne and Pau. They started the Top 14 at 100mph, leaving all rivals in their wake and hoping they won’t sustain this through to next spring and summer. History suggests they’ll struggle, but they’ve learned too. December is for winning games, May is for blistering form. You can only maintain that high pitch for a certain number of weeks. I’ve found that once you’ve dipped, it’s very difficult to get that peak form back.
Looking for the form team in Europe at present, it’s hard to look beyond Munster.
Periodisation isn’t their concern at present. Things had been at an all-time low, there was only one option. The loss of Anthony Foley can explain some things, though not all.
What it has done, maybe — and I say maybe — is change people’s attitude from glass half-empty to glass half-full. It might have created more positivity and appreciation for life.
But Munster’s form also underlines the impressive work by their staff. They have snuck to the top of the PRO12 and they’ve Francis Saili coming back. Next week at Welford Road will be a test. I don’t think Munster will be in trouble tomorrow.
Saili’s return to training this week coincides with the impending departure of Jaco Taute, who has defended very impressively in the 13 channel. The South African returns to the Stormers shortly and has left a very positive mark on Munster. He should be very proud of what he has done.
Adapting to changed circumstances has been the recurring theme of the week. The Begles-Bordeaux president spoke to the group of coaches doling their badges about the necessity of flexibility in approach to business and sport. The ability to adapt is crucial. There must be a plan, something you believe in, but be open to change.
We discussed that at dinner, Ian Madigan and I, in Bordeaux last Monday night. He’s coming back from injury, but he’s in a good place, literally and career-wise. Nice town, good team with a real international feel to it. The best is still to come from Madigan. He is where he wants to be.
That’s important for all of us.