Connacht may have the PRO12 winner’s trophy in their cabinet, but Pat Lam insists they still rank 12th by every other metric.
The Connacht boss was the main man at yesterday’s Guinness PRO12 launch at Aviva Stadium, where he was congratulated by the coaches of every other member of the competition.
He knows they’ll all have their crosshairs focused on the western province, but Lam remains excited by the challenge of retaining their title, despite their inability to compete with the big money signings elsewhere.
“I’ve been fortunate to win other championships but this was a highlight because if you rank the 12 teams in the Pro12 by resources, budgets and facilities and everything we are 12th,” he said.
“It just emphasises the work that we all did and I am not just talking about the players.
“The whole organisation did and it’s a big boost and certainly I am watching what the other clubs are doing with their signings.
“But it is certainly out of our reach what some of the others can do. Everyone is boosting, whether it’s playing staff, coaching staff, and that’s the challenge we face.”
Marnitz Boshoff, the Springbok outhalf, has signed from Golden Lions in South Africa during the summer, but Connacht under Lam have never been – and will never be – about big name marquee signings.
“Rugby is a team game, it has always been,” Lam said.
“Because we are at a disadvantage, we make it our advantage to be the best team and everyone knowing their roles, having a clear style of the way we want to play the game, having a strong culture and really build leadership which is led by John [Muldoon]. And that to me was probably the biggest secret of our success.
While Lam has done a good job talking down his side’s resources, he knows they are about to start a season where they will no longer be considered underdogs.
“There’s a buzz around the place, a lift with what we achieved, but what the trophy represents is the hard work everyone’s had to do,” he said.
“It’s even tougher now though and the challenge is to step up, because of the target on our backs, there is no longer any ‘underdogs’ or lucky wins.
“When we got back to pre-season our plan in the first week was like the plan we had in the last week [in May]; to emphasise the message that ‘that was great but we continue on with what we’re doing’.
“But we understand the reality that we have the target on our backs, the expectation is high, when you go from a team whose highest finish was seventh to where we are now, then second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth is still a great season for us, but the expectation is above that.
“We understand all that, but all we can control is what we do every day.”
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