Irish rugby will continue to lose coaches to more lucrative clubs overseas, says former Connacht coach Pat Lam, unless it changes its stance on contracts.
Lam, who wraps up his four year stint in Connacht this weekend at the wedding of captain John Muldoon before heading to Bristol, says his one regret leaving Ireland next week is the IRFU’s stubborness over the six-months release clause.
“If they had listened to me, I wouldn’t be going anywhere because I wouldn’t break a contract,” he says. “The problem is all the other clubs know the Irish coaches have this in their contract, so guess what happens? November/December each year people start making contact knowing there is a clause that you can get out of the contract.”
Lam says it is the same for Munster’s Erasmus, Leinster’s Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster, and Ulster’s Les Kiss.
“Everyone worldwide knows they have this in their contracts, but it is one area that needs to change, otherwise Ireland will continue to lose coaches,” he says.
Lam says the clause was always a sticking point which nearly prevented him coming to Ireland in the first place.
“It was one reason I held off signing. I wasn’t comfortable with it right from the beginning. They gave me two years plus one; I wanted three, but they wanted the option to test if Pat was any good, and that’s fair enough, but the fundamental problem was the six months.
“I rang Joe Schmidt [then with Leinster] and he said it works in our favour because we have to be extremely bad, and if we back ourselves, it’s extremely unlikely they’ll let us go, but if it doesn’t work out for us, then we could always leave.
“I thought ‘Jesus’, how bizzare, so I did the two years, and they offered me a two plus one year again, and I was annoyed by that. I almost didn’t sign it. Why a two plus one again when they know me? But they made it a three year deal, and then I saw the clause, so it ended up being a two year deal, but they wouldn’t take the clause out.
“Again I am not pointing the finger at any one, but the IRFU needs to understand the reason I felt so strongly about it is because they used to have it in New Zealand, and with Dave Rennie and Todd Blackadder, we all fought to have it removed because you either back us or you don’t.
“Instead of a selection panel doing all the homework and making sure they have the right person, it gives them a little out to say “we’ll give this person a go and see, but we have an out to get rid of him. I just think do your homework, and if the you have the right person, back it. I can understand the first term, but the second – they should take it out.”
Lam says the clause affected the Connacht squad just six months after claiming their first PRO 12 trophy.
“It’s not ideal, without a doubt it had an effect. I could see it [with players]and I could see it with staff too. It made me more determined to tick every box.
“There is no doubt players start thinking it’s okay, it’s just human nature, particularly when you have 40/50 players, including the academy. You have 15 who love you, another eight/10 who are ‘oh, I’m not selected’ and the others who are not playing, and it can become very difficult.
“Who it affected most I think was some of the staff. They realised Pat is not going to be here, and there are people who do their jobs and people who keep their jobs – that is the danger.”
However it will not stop Lam returning to Connacht on August 26th when he brings his new-look Bristol to the Sportsground for a pre-season fixture.
“Do I want to play Connacht? No, I don’t, but I know it is so difficult to convince teams to come to Galway because they can’t just fly in, so this is a bit of a gift and it’s something I want to do.”