Lam emerges as frontrunner for Connacht position
RUGBY:Although no deal has been signed or sealed, the former Auckland Blues head coach Pat Lam has emerged as the front-runner from a shortlist of six candidates to succeed Eric Elwood as head coach at Connacht at the end of the season.
The 34-times capped ex-Samoa captain, who also played once for the All Blacks, was part of the Samoan management team on their successful November tour, which featured a win over Wales and earned them a top eight ranking. Out of full-time work since being let go by the Blues last July, Lam’s official title on the November tour was “attack and mentor” coach.
Lam also had a hugely distinguished playing career, which featured three World Cups with Samoa and also saw him play for Auckland, the Crusaders, Newcastle and Northampton.
It is believed the 44-year-old’s varied coaching career has also appealed to the panel charged with finding a successor to Elwood. Having served as assistant coach to Scotland in the 2003 World Cup, Lam was head coach with the Auckland provincial side for four years from 2004 to 2008, when he led them to a second Air New Zealand Cup as well as the Ranfurly Shield.
Back with the Blues in 2011, they reached the play-offs for the first time since ’07 before losing away to eventual winners the Queensland Reds. Last season his tenure came under pressure after a run of seven successive defeats left them at the foot of the Super 15 table.
Despite rallying to finish 12th, his fate was sealed and he was replaced by John Kirwan, though Lam maintained: “I truly believe that I’m a far better coach this year after what I’ve gone through.”
During the campaign, as frustration amongst Blues fans intensified, Lam complained of racist remarks directed at him and some players via social media, talk radio and the Blues’ own website. In a decidedly unfortunate adjunct to all of this, Lam received what was described in a New Zealand paper NZ Truth as “a vile text message” which referred to the Polynesian and Maori players in Lam’s backline in a racial and derogatory way.
The text message came from a phone belonging to Mark Anscombe who had already been lined up to coach Ulster, but he vehemently maintained it was by someone who had attended a party in his house unbeknown to him. Anscombe, whose son Gareth played for Lam at the Blues, said he deplored the text and all racist behaviour, and texted Lam immediately to explain what had happened.
The former English outhalf and current skills coach at Clermont Alex King, who has taken up an offer to join the Northampton coaching ticket, and Sean Holley, who re-iterated his interest in the job in the Welsh media yesterday, have also been strong candidates, but Lam is seemingly the favourite, with an announcement to be made possibly as soon as the end of next week.
If the Auckland-born Lam is appointed, it would mean all four Irish provinces will next season be coached by New Zealanders.
It also understood that although he was never formally interviewed by the four-man panel, former Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan did meet with Connacht chief executive Tom Sears for about an hour and a half in November to discuss his application. But despite strong backing from some high profile pundits in the media, O’Sullivan ultimately didn’t make the shortlist.