Committed to Connacht and committed to winning rugby, Pat Lam is going nowhere 5 years ago

Committed to Connacht and committed to winning rugby, Pat Lam is going nowhere

Pat Lam is not going anywhere until he gets Connacht back to the top table, and keeps them there.

The Connacht head coach is eyeing top spot in the Guinness PRO12 and could well reach the summit, on Friday, by beating Benetton Treviso.

SportsJOE caught up with Lam, earlier this season, and were rapt for the entire 35 minutes we spoke.

"We talk about training to win. A player can go and do one thing and it looks real well but it is actually quite sloppy."

Lam stands up and crouches over a mock ruck.

"I might talk about body height. So someone comes in that is unopposed, in training, and sit there [at a ruck] while the ball is played. But, in the end, it is a non-contact session. What you want is a player to come in and get down, over-exaggerate, and do exactly as you would during a game.

With legs planted, Lam mimics getting stuck right into a ruck.

"That, to me, is training to win. The other is just sloppiness."

Lam has taken a stride further than Eric Elwood, who wanted Connacht to evolve from a team that ground out wins in the sleet and snow. The westerners still relish mud and guts rugby but only when the time calls.

He says, "I don't want to be known as a team that kicks for everything and I don't want us to be known as a team that runs everything. I want us to be a team that knows how to win.

"There are different ways to win a game... [We want] to be able to play a game where we can go around a team, go through a team or go over a team."

Robbie Henshaw and head coach Pat Lam celebrate after the game 1/1/2015

Born in Samoa but bred on rugby in New Zealand, Lam is a big fan of the All Blacks running rugby and slick passing but points out that it the world champions earn the right to have darts through sheer, hard graft.

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Ask him what his goal is and he fixes you in his gaze.

"The big one for us is Champions Cup. We've got to get into that competition.

"You can make it there by finishing top six in the PRO12 and you can also make it by winning the Challenge Cup... That was our goal [last season] but we just missed out and missed out in the play-off stage. Being that agonisingly close to it has just made us more determined."

Lam believes Connacht are in a better place than this time last year. He has added to his coaching and playing staff but the province, he says, continues to operate on a straitened budget.

Still, Connacht are the province most tested when senior players are struck down with the inevitable Test call-ups injuries that come with the game.

"Our biggest challenge is to ensure that the second and third cabs off the rank [players] can be as good as that first cab. They may not beat them in games or experience but our jobs, as coaches and staff, is to ensure they have absolute clarity in what they need to do."

He continues, "This time we have taken eight academy guys - the ones we feel could step up - and put a lot of work into them. Strength and conditioning-wise but also coaching and skills-wise. We don't see them as academy players. We see them as potential Connacht players... we have to accelerate what happens here."

"The reality is, each year I put my best 15 down on paper. Two years in a row now and I've never put that team out on the field."

Pat Lam arrives 24/5/2015

One of the main things Lam has instilled, with the help of most everyone at the squad, is a sense of community across the province.

"When I arrived, I put out a five-year plan. One of the biggest things was that sense of team. The more that everybody is together and in-sync about that, the better.

"There are a group of guys that I'd like to bring through and I am very excited about what is coming through. When you look at the average age of our team [that age is coming down]. People tell me that we haven't had that many signings. I see that as a good thing.

"We've built a core group and we're now adding to that... there are some good names [of possible signings] but we have to ask ourselves 'Will they make a difference?'"

There had been talk, last season, of a Leinster approach to Lam, and other clubs are taking note of the province's upward swing. Does he see himself seeing out his five-year deal?

"I'm going to," he declares. "I'm down to do at least five. I signed a new deal [recently] and I'm here until June 2018."

"This is why I came to Connacht," he adds. "It wasn't just a job; it was a vision, a plan."