The 44-year-old has accepted a two-year deal with an option to extend, ending months of intense media speculation. Lam will take up the post on June 1, with Elwood remaining in position for the remainder of the season.
Although Lam was not the first choice of the six candidates interviewed — Sean Holley announcing he turned down an offer — Connacht chief executive Tom Sears said the province “are convinced Pat has all the qualities and credentials to take Connacht forward’’.
Sears added: “Allied to his experience and technical expertise he displayed an excellent knowledge of Connacht, of where we are, what we aim to achieve, the obstacles we face and how we can ultimately achieve our objective of becoming one of the leading sides in European rugby.
“Throughout the selection process Pat displayed a real affinity to what Connacht Rugby means and that was crucial to us.”
Lam is the third Kiwi to coach the province, following in the footsteps of Warren Gatland and Glenn Ross in the 1990s. He is well known in the northern hemisphere, having played with Newcastle and Northampton, which he captained to Heineken Cup success. He moved into coaching, taking over his native Auckland which won the provincial crown in 2005 and 2007. Although he then coached the Auckland Blues to the semi-final of the Super 15 in 2011, a poor run of results last season saw him replaced by former All Black John Kirwan.
During the break he was involved with Manu Samoa on their recent European tour.
Lam said he was impressed with the Connacht board’s vision for the province and the “fighting spirit” of the team and their supporters.
“I’m looking forward to working with good people to build on the great work that Eric has done.”
The announcement comes as Elwood’s men prepare to take on English champions Harlequins at The Stoop today where their hopes of upsetting the odds have been dealt a blow with the loss of influential out-half Dan Parks and No 8 George Naoupu.
Elwood has been forced to make three changes to the side that overcame Dragons 30-11 last weekend with Parks forced to pull out with a hamstring injury. He will be replaced by Matthew Jarvis, while Naoupu failed a fitness test after a neck injury last weekend, resulting in Eoin McKeon moving to No 8 with Johnny O’Connor returning to the openside. The third changes sees Tiernan O’Halloran back on the wing for the injured Danie Poolman, who scored a try in last Saturday’s victory.
However, Elwood believes his youngsters will rise to the occasion, despite resources once again being stretched.
“We believe we still have a lot to do with two games to go in the cup,” says Elwood.
Last year Connacht went to The Stoop as greenhorns, and came away with many plaudits, if not the points, but Elwood believes his side have matured since then.
“We have gained from the experience last year and had a couple of better performances this year. We had a good outing against Harlequins at the Sportsground and we have enjoyed two victories in this year’s competition.
“Yes, we know it will be difficult against a side that has blitzed everyone in Europe and are top of the table, but we know what we have to do — play positive rugby, keep possession and put them under pressure so they have to do an element of defending.’’
Conor O’Shea and John Kingston are taking no chances, and have named their strongest side. Against the team that thrashed Biarritz 41 -13 in the opening round, Connacht would be doing very well to escape The Stoop with a bonus point.
It would at least give them a huge incentive heading into the game against Zebre at the Sportsground, particularly with Biarritz expected to take the full complement of points against the Italians this afternoon.
Harlequins, however, remain in the driving seat.
The Rugby Football Union has warned Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea as to his future conduct over comments made about referee Llyr ApGeraint-Roberts in his side’s 31-26 win at London Welsh on January 6.
O’Shea has been warned that a repeat of the comments could lead to a charge of bringing the game into disrepute.
O’Shea was left fuming over the referee’s performance. “I’m unbelievably frustrated, you’d have to go a long way to see worse,” he said. “Everything was wrong – it was incredible. The offside line was irrelevant, trailing runners coming back was irrelevant, backing into the maul, not releasing in the tackle – all irrelevant.”