We got too smart with Pat Lam's contract, now he's off to England 2 years ago

We got too smart with Pat Lam's contract, now he's off to England

It was the only sticking point in the contract negotiations between Pat Lam and the Irish Rugby Football Union. Eventually, the six-month release clause ended up working in Lam's favour and left Connacht looking for a new head coach.

January 2016 was an uncertain time for Pat Lam. He had led Connacht to the top of the Guinness PRO12 standing only for the province to experience a four-game league skid.

All that his team had been building towards - the win over Munster at Thomond Park, the superb away result over Ospreys, Connacht's daring, attacking style - it all looked in danger of crumbling away.

And yet he met the IRFU for his final round of contract negotiations in a strong position. He was well and truly turning the long ignored province into a force. He was making a difference. His Connacht was engaging with communities across the province and drawing in a host of new fans.

There was a sticking point though. The union, said Lam, was insisting on a six-month clause in his contract. It meant he could walk away at any stage of a new, three-year deal as long as he gave six months notice.

Lam's problem was that the IRFU could do the same. At his press briefing, after his move to Bristol was still settling in, Lam told us:

"When I arrived [in 2013] as the head coach of Connacht, you had Mark Anscombe as head coach of Ulster, Matt O'Connor as head coach of Leinster and Rob Penney was head coach of Munster. I'm obviously the last one standing at the moment.

"Mark Anscombe signed a new contract in February [2014] but was released in June. Matt O'Connor had a three-year deal but was released after two. So, that's the reality of the world I choose to live in and I choose to live in it because I love it."

While Lam is set to earn £750,000 a year with Bristol, who will most likely start 2017/18 in the English Championship, the IRFU clause was one of the most resounding facts he raised.

By trying to hedge their bets and install a back door to their provincial coaching contracts, the union dug its own hole. Connacht's league-winning coach is off to England after the IRFU was hopelessly gazumped.

Anthony Foley with Pat Lam 21/8/2015

Lam looked around him and saw good rugby men being cut adrift even if results were going okay. Anscombe's Ulster topped the PRO12 in 2013/14 and were denied a well deserved home semi-final because of construction work on Ravenhill. The fact that the semi was moved to RDS - home of Leinster Rugby - for a game against Leinster was a massive kick in the teeth.

Anscombe laughs about it to this day but their is little humour in his laugh. Topped the league standings, lost a PRO12 semi-final and failed to escape from a European group that contained Toulon. Anscombe was asked to move on.

O'Connor won the PRO12 in his first season with Leinster and reached a Champions Cup semi-final the next year. He didn't see out his three years.

Lam formed a close bond with Anthony Foley, who replaced Penney in 2014, and was well aware of the vice-like pressure on the man. Foley got two seasons before Munster brought in a superior, Rassie Erasmus, as their first ever Director of Rugby.

As much as rugby claims not to be football, rugby coaches are just as endangered in their professions as their footballing counterparts.

The IRFU were looking out for No.1. So was Lam, and now he's leaving.

The next guy will have to wrest with his conscious because you can bet your arse that clause is not going anywhere.

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