New Connacht coach Pat Lam forced to plan with limited budget
‘The best thing I did was come for the last month of last season to be a fly on the wall. I spent some time with the academy and saw Nigel Carolan, Jimmy Duffy and Cory Brown in action with the young guys’
New Connacht head coach Pat Lam will be forced to promote from within. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
After the heat wave, a bitterly tough winter is promised. For the readers who missed the mid-summer missive, the IRFU are €26 million in the red due to a lack of uptake on 10-year tickets.
Same old same old for Connacht then. New coach Pat Lam has been brought up to speed; make do with what you’ve got.
Twelve players were shipped out with only eight new arrivals. The jury is still out on English-born lock Aly Muldowney, outside back James So’oialo and flanker Jake Heenan, although the 21-year-old captained the New Zealand under-20s.
However, Waikato Chiefs captain Craig Clarke and Fionn Carr’s second coming promises to improve Connacht’s leadership group and try-scoring potential.
Any more positions Lam wants to fill in the squad or coaching set-up? “It would be nice to but we don’t have money,” said Lam. “I’ve got Dave Ellis coming. He doesn’t start until September as he was on contract in Australia but Dan McFarland, who was assistant coach (under Elwood), has been fantastic.
“I hadn’t worked with Dan before I arrived but we played against each other when he was with Richmond and I was at Newcastle and Northampton.
‘Fly on the wall’
“The best thing I did was come for the last month of last season to be a fly on the wall. I spent some time with the academy and saw Nigel Carolan, Jimmy Duffy and Cory Brown in action with the young guys.”
So impressed by what he witnessed, Lam decided to integrate the academy into the senior squad’s pre-season programme. “So when we inevitably call upon them they are ready,” he explained.
Considering Clarke just led the Chiefs to consecutive Super Rugby titles, he is a contender for the captaincy, which Lam will announce next week.
What’s certain is that Connacht have landed a quality lock and genuine leader of men. “Without a doubt. You can see that straight away. Craig wasn’t supposed to start until Monday but he got here last Wednesday and was in the next day meeting the boys,” said Lam.
“He has a real presence about him, as we knew, and he has made a impact already off the field. He has had a few training runs now and we can see why he is so highly rated.”
The main focus during Lam’s initial few months in Galway sounds awfully like Joe Schmidt’s first summer in Dublin. Skills, skills and more skills. The 44-year-old’s rugby philosophy also sounds a lot like the Schmidt doctrine.
“There is no doubt that there is a lot of heart in Connacht rugby. They fight for everything,” said Lam.
“But we are realistic, whether it is European Cup or even the Rabo, we are not comparing apples with apples. We have the least amount of international-capped players in our team. We are one of the smallest teams. We have nowhere near the budget of the other teams.
“So what Eric (Elwood) and the previous (management) have done by finishing eighth was a fantastic effort, because when you compare it, it is like the bottom teams in the Premier League in football. Or probably championship teams.
“The beauty about rugby is it is a team game. Some teams can get away with playing at 60 or 70 per cent and relying on individuals, some X factor super stars. But for us guys to be competing week in, week out, we won’t be relying on any one body; we have to rely on everybody.
“What type of rugby are we going to play? We have to make sure we are comfortable with any style. We don’t want to be known as a team that throws the ball left, right and centre. We don’t want to be known as a team that kicks. We want to be known as a team that can adapt to what is in front of us, to adapt to the conditions.”
On the house-keeping front, the newly capped Robbie Henshaw will be available for the opening PRO12 fixture at home to Zebre on September 7th although fellow fullback Gavan Duffy (fractured cheekbone) joins inside centre pair Kyle Tonetti and Dave McSharry in the recovery room.
“Brian Murphy did a good job in club rugby last year and we got Conor Finn coming through our academy,” said Lam of the number 12 problem. “We don’t have the resources to just pick up another international player. We will promote from within.”