It is believed that an escape clause which required Pat Lam to give six months notice was the primary reason why the Connacht coach made the announcement yesterday that he was departing the Sportsground at the end of the season.
Lam was under contract to remain in charge of Connacht until June 2018 but a clause in the deal when he extended his stay by three years in January 2015 meant that he had to act soon if he was to take charge of Bristol in the summer.
Connacht are facing into their two most important games of the season with back-to-back Champions Cup games against Wasps and there was surprise at the timing of the announcement yesterday.
It was unlikely that Lam, who guided Connacht to Pro12 glory, would remain at the Sportsground beyond this season with the 48-year old in big demand after his stunning success.
The fact that the coach of the Pro12 champions is joining a club which is likely to be playing in the second tier of English rugby next season will not go down well, but a pay deal worth an estimated £700,000 a year made this an offer Lam could hardly refuse.
Connacht chief executive Willie Ruane admitted he was surprised when Lam told him on Friday that he was leaving, while the players knew nothing of the decision. They were on a day off yesterday when they received instructions to go to the Sportsground, apparently under the assumption of some screening procedure. Some had to travel from Dublin for the Monday morning meeting at the Sportsground where Lam told them in person he was departing.
One player said there was absolute shock in the room, while Bundee Aki, who recently turned down lucrative offers from France and England to sign a three-year contract extension, didn’t hide his disappointment when he took to Twitter and proclaimed: ‘Feeling p*ssed’.
The Pro12 player of the season may now face disciplinary action for his outburst to add to the unrest at the Sportsground as they try to prepare for their showdown with Wasps at the Ricoh Stadium in Coventry on Sunday.
Almost immediately, attention is turning to who will replace Lam, with the likes of Eddie O’Sullivan, Bernard Jackman, Stuart Lancaster, Dan McFarland, and Declan Kidney being mentioned.
Former South African World Cup winning coach Jake White is out of contract with Montpellier at the end of the season.
The input made by indigenous assistant coaches Conor McPhillips and Jimmy Duffy should also be noted.
Connacht, having lifted silverware, may feel there is a requirement to recruit a ‘big name’ from abroad but if they avoid that temptation then Ireland U-20 coach Nigel Carolan, who has developed the much vaunted academy at the Sportsground, must be seen as a serious contender.
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