THERE ARE COACHES who land into a new environment and begin projecting their worldview onto an alien situation.
And then, there is Pat Lam.
Such was the manner in which his predecessor lived and breathed his job, nobody could have realistically taken Eric Elwood’s vacant seat at the Sportsground without being viewed as an outsider.
The former coach of Auckland Blues is acutely aware of the cultural shift he has stepped into. Indeed, he appears to have made it his priority to keep the Elwood/Connacht ethos alive and well.
With that, he balances a readiness to break tradition. In his opening pre-season friendly he named a starting 15 for each half and this week he promoted two more experienced men to the rank of captain to make three in total.
“One of the things I wanted to identify and challenge the guys was; what does the ultimate Connacht man look like?
“Because we had a vision of where we wanted to go, we needed to identify that first.”
The net result of his poll among the squad brought the names John Muldoon, Gavin Duffy and Michael Swift to the fore.
“I can see the impact that they have. They live what they say,” Lam said at yesterday’s RaboDirect Pro12 launch.
“I want to make sure that we build to where we want to go, that players can aspire to see what our leaders are; guys I know I can trust, guys I know will walk the talk and bring that next generation through.”
Progression and that ‘next generation’ are key points to Lam’s view of his own role. In fact, he cites them as the key tenets of his role with the western province.
“What I found when I arrived was that a lot of people were saying, ‘this guy can’t do this, this guy can’t do that,’ the Kiwi told TheScore.ie.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to know what he can’t do. I want to know what he can do and what we can do to make him better.’ Because as a coach you’ve got two responsibilities:
- “You’ve got to make sure you’ve got a rugby programme that enables each player to get better. At the end of the day, players want to be better than they were yesterday and they were last season. And if we can do that collectively we’ll be better as a team.
- “The second thing – they want to know there is a genuine pathway. ‘If I represent Connacht, I can go on to represent Ireland’
“It was no different when I was coaching Auckland. The job was to improve them and help them go on to the All Blacks. That’s my responsibility to the IRFU and to Connacht.”
As Lam speaks, he seems to bounce around in his chair. His eyes widen and squint for emphasis and at times he struggles to conceal a giddy smile. His enthusiasm is infectious – for the job, for the game, for the place he now calls home.
“It’s like everyone says; the west is the best.
I come to Dublin, I think I’ve been to Ireland. It’s like when people go to London, they think they’ve been to England. I found that when I went to Newcastle and Northampton there are better parts.
“When I arrived and asked, ‘what was Galway like?’ Even people from Dublin said, ‘not just Galway, the whole west of Ireland is the best part.’ And, mate, that’s all been confirmed.
“My wife pined to go back to New Zealand when I played in England the first time, she got emotional. But she loves it here.
“We know that if you look at Galway and Connacht and the whole west; it doesn’t have the most population, it doesn’t have the most money and the business, but there is something special about it -it’s the people and the way they do things, the way they treat people.”
Once he starts, Lam is as tough a man to stop talking as he was in the tackle.
“Before I come here I need to know why I’m coming here, what it’s all about and who I represent.
“I’ve met so many people. Even away from rugby; at my kid’s school, my neighbours and as you meet them you just listen to their stories. “
The Aucklander shakes his head as he ends the sentence, as if he wishes he could pass the tales on
“It’s great, because everyone loves to be in a job and get paid money, but to be in a place you love being and enjoy working in?
“Mate, I’m a happy man.”