Who will replace Pat Lam at Connacht?
Gerry Thornley looks at the possible contenders to replace Lam at Connacht coach
Grenoble head coach Bernard Jackman. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Nigel Carolan. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Dan McFarland. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Eddie O’Sullivan. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Stuart Lancaster. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Initial co-favourite with Nigel Carolan until a gamble on the latter. The former Irish international hooker spent five seasons with Connacht in two spells (1997-99 and 2002-05) and is a former teammate of the current CEO Willie Ruane as well as Eric Elwood, Carolan, Gavin Duffy and others now in the Connacht organisation. Coached several Irish clubs, including Clontarf, Jackman is now in his fifth year with Grenoble, rising to head coach this season. The Grenoble manager, Andrew Farley, is another former Connacht player.
A hard-working left winger with the province from 1996 to 2000, Carolan has overseen an extraordinarily productive Connacht Academy for the last 12 years. An assistant coach to the Ireland Under-20s from 2008 to 2010, Carolan took over as the Under-20s head coach in 2014 and this year guided Ireland to a World Cup final in England.
The second Connacht player, after Eric Elwood, to play 100 times for the province, the English-born former tighthead played ended a 15-year association with Connacht as first a player and then, for nine years, an assistant/forwards coach to link up with Gregor Townsend at Glasgow last season. Committed to working alongside Townsend with Scotland from the end of this season.
The Cork-born former Garryowen winger coached Connacht in the 1995-96 season, having also had stints with Buccaneers, Galwegians and the Irish Under-20s, before resigning on the eve of the 1996-97 season when unable to agree a deal with the IRFU.
He was an assistant coach with the USA Eagles and then Ireland before succeeding Warren Gatland as Irish coach from 2001 to 2008, during which time Ireland won the Triple Crown in ‘04, ‘06 and ‘07. He then coached the USA Eagles through to the 2011 World Cup and spent just over a year with Biarritz following their relegation in 2014, failing to arrest the club’s slide following a mass exodus of leading players, parting company with the club in September 2015.
Prior to that, he said he was “extremely disappointed” not to be shortlisted for the Connacht vacancy when the province chose Lam as Elwood’s successor.
An experienced coach, having served his time with Leeds and the RFU, before his four-year tenure at the helm with England featured four runners-up finishes in the Six Nations culminating in a World Cup pool exit to Australia and Wales as hosts. That left him as damaged goods but he has rebuilt his reputation as an assistant coach with Leinster, where he has made a very positive impression, and is only under contract with them until the end of the season. Would therefore be contractually available.
The Munster and Irish legend has been cutting his teeth as an increasingly influential assistant coach at Racing Metro, who won the French Top 14 Championship last season. It is hard to see him returning to Ireland to coach against Munster, but then again Rassie Erasmus looks well set there and if O’Gara were of a mind to make the next step Connacht would be a good fit in many respects, not least as it would ensure some more stardust after Lam’s visionary, high profile tenure.
Jake White is available again at the end of the season given Montpellier have already decided to replace him with Vern Cotter and Alex King, recently released by Northampton, but he would assuredly be out of their budget. Nor would his brand of rugby fit.
Eric Elwood is now well ensconced in his role as Connacht’s domestic rugby manager, and current forwards coach Jimmy Duffy, like Carolan, would be a likelier appointment from within. Former Ulster, Ireland and Lions lock Jeremy Davidson continues to do a remarkable job at Aurillac and the former Ospreys coach Sean Holley, who has spent three years at Bristol before leaving them at the start of this season, was widely reported to have turned Connacht down when they were looking for a successor to Elwood.