Connacht chief Willie Ruane plays down ‘crisis’ talk despite exodus

Connacht chief executive Willie Ruane has denied that Connacht are in crisis, despite the province losing Pat Lam and two other coaches in addition to three players who started the PRO12 final win over Leinster.

Backs coach Andre Bell returned to New Zealand shortly after the historic final win, with skills coach Dave Ellis set to cut short his stay at the Sportsground in January.

But while Robbie Henshaw left during the summer and was followed by lock Aly Muldowney and out-half AJ MacGinty, Ruane said the unrest was being managed.

“It’s not a crisis at all. We lost two key players but we retained the likes of Ultan Dillane and Bundee Aki, two of arguably the biggest players in the squad. It’s not a crisis at all.

“It’s part of professional sport and that is the harsh reality of it. People come and people go. The main thing is, are the structures in place to allow you to continue to grow and achieve your objectives? And we are comfortable with that. Any of our conversations are about what structures are needed so when you lose a person it doesn’t impact you. If you don’t have the structure where you can replace someone, that is a crisis.”

Lam confirmed that his announcement this week was sparked by a clause in his contract which required him to give six months’ notice if he was to leave before June 2018, but Ruane said none of the players in the squad had such a release clause.

PRO12 player of the season Bundee Aki, who signed a three-year contract extension recently, vented his feelings when he tweeted “Feeling pissed”, after being informed on Monday morning that the coach who brought him to the Sportsground was now departing.

Lam said he had a good chat with Aki and there was “a big bear hug”. Ruane said neither Aki nor any other player had an option in their contract to leave early. “The six-month clause is not in players’ contracts but I would be reluctant to talk about those.”

Ruane also clarified his remarks at a media event in the Aviva Stadium last May about clauses in Lam’s contract which would allow him leave. The question from a reporter referred to ‘bigger clubs’ coming in for the coach.

“In fairness, back in the Aviva I was asked, ‘Were there specific clauses with regards to so-called bigger clubs’. There were no specific clauses with regard to so-called bigger clubs,” said Ruane.

“There was a clause which allowed Pat to leave with six months notice. That had nothing to do with so-called bigger clubs, there was nothing specific about it. I was asked a very direct question and that was the honest answer.”

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