Irish rugby can learn a lot from Pat Lam and Connacht

Western province are clearly doing something different – and it’s working

Connacht loosehead Denis Buckley: his workrate continues to be off the charts, but with outrageous added value to the ball. Photograph: Ian Cook/Inpho

Connacht loosehead Denis Buckley: his workrate continues to be off the charts, but with outrageous added value to the ball. Photograph: Ian Cook/Inpho

 

So last week’s “success is failure turned inside out” on Connacht’s 29 years “of doubt”, with Pat Lam’s losing streak in 2013, where “it’s when things seem worst that you must not quit”. Yes, Irish rugby can learn from Lam.

In a lull in play this week I caught up on Sports Rivalries: Romania V USSR – a look at the gymnastics rivalry between Romania and USSR. Is this relevant to Irish rugby, Thomond Park or my last four articles? Absolutely – especially as I’ve long been an advocate of the “Porter Diamond” from Michael E Porter’s The Competitive Advantage of Nations.

By 1991 the USSR had won more international artistic gymnastic medals than the remainder combined. Artistic gymnastics evolved in Russia, but by the mid-1970s Romania were the only team to threaten. Why?

All other countries built training centres following the Russian model. Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s 48-year record of 18 Olympic medals stood until American swimmer Michael Phelps arrived. Makes sense?

Up their game

Leinster’s European success can be associated with many factors, but that Munster fought them all the way domestically forced the Blues to really up their game to combat; or as Porter suggested, clusters of small industries (and sporting bodies) competing locally ensure the competitiveness of one company is related to the performance of other companies and other factors tied together in a value-added chain that ultimately dominates in foreign fields (such as BMW and Mercedes).

Russian artistic gymnastics has long been influenced by dance under the Russian School of Ballet. Hence a ballet teacher was crucial to artistic gymnastics, but Béla Károlyi, the Romanian gymnastics coach arrived and changed it all.

Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal came directly from the dominating rivalry thrust upon Romania by the USSR and Károlyi’s coaching reaction. It forced Romania to rethink their entire development of talent. In fact it was the first time in Olympic history a perfect 10 was awarded.

Second Captains

Károlyi set up a breakaway training environment that flew in the face of Russian doctrine.

One swallow . . .

Maybe Robbie Henshaw is the modern day Nadia Comaneci, Pat Lam the new Béla Károlyi and Connacht the new Romania but, of course, one swallow does not a summer make. It remains to be seen if the injury-ridden province will get their “perfect 10” by winning a trophy or deposing any of Ulster, Leinster or Munster in the European Challenge Cup.

However, there were glaring similarities between Bath’s performance in victory over Leinster in the Rec last month and Connacht’s in Thomond Park last Saturday. I noted then how English international George Ford, the exciting Bath outhalf, had many wonderful attributes and attitudes in and around the ball, but that they were all crucially complemented by his team-mates.

The one that caught my eye was his timing of the pass or more accurately the timing of the release of the pass. Recycle speed was computed quickly by Ford dictating his depth where, for a small guy, he had no issues in heavy traffic. He was especially conscious of Leinster players hunting for the hit on him and would, in fact, encourage this by loitering in time as they honeypotted. No sooner had they clustered on him than he would release the ball to a hard-running free supporter, moments before being smashed.

This happened way too often to be a fluke from Ford or a fluke from the support runner. It was part of their game. Connacht, in the rain, managed the ball like Bath, but I’d seen it before. On May 1st this year I highlighted loosehead Denis Buckley’s performance where, within seven days, he nullified All Black World Cup winner John Afoa in Gloucester and Munster’s Springbok World Cup winner BJ Botha in the Sportsground.

Beyond that his work rate was off the charts and continues to be, but with outrageous added value to the ball. Kieran Marmion had a marvellous game at scrumhalf against Ulster back in April where, playing into a terrible gale, he controlled the pace and the ball beautifully. His hooker Tom McCartney also displayed exceptional lineout accuracy (Connacht 100 per cent to Ulster 81 per cent). So their performances have been built on a culture.

Something different

My point? Connacht, like Bath, are clearly doing something different with the ball than the others. We don’t have access to Bath, so Irish rugby can learn an awful lot from Pat Lam and Connacht.

I’ve heard the one about the rugby balls and each Connacht player arriving carrying their personalised ball, but this is something we did in Leinster back in 1999 so I’m not interested in that.

What’s new, really new? What are they doing in Connacht that encourages Denis Buckley in heavy rain, out in midfield, to swivel pass off his right hand, behind his (considerable) back to a team- mate outside him on the left?

Remember the underage pudgy loosehead I’ve been encouraging to treat the ball as a friend; to embrace it and run with it to add value. Well invite us all to a session in Connacht where Denis Buckley is doing same and we can bring it back to the under- age teams. Or can we pool our Irish resources with immediate effect, call a workshop for all coaches, where Connacht can teach their new techniques/philosophy?

Finally: how many Ulster, Leinster and Munster players would have caught Buckley’s outrageous pass had he been in their team last weekend? Knock on, scrum down! liamtoland@yahoo.com

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.