What a difference 12 months can make. This time last year, Connacht were basking in their incredible PRO12 triumph. Now they are facing a certain level of uncertainty coming into the new season.
The Chiefs coach, Kieran Keane, will be taking over the top job at Connacht but he will only be able to join once the Super Rugby season has been finalised – meaning that Keane will likely miss a certain portion of the preseason preparations.
Connacht had a disrupted preseason at the beginning of their attempt to retain their PRO12 title – just one of the many reasons which led to their poor showing for this campaign.
Connacht had an unprecedented injury list, in addition to speculation and eventual confirmation of Pat Lam’s future – that he was departing the western province at the end of the season for now Championship outfit, Bristol.
Lam, in an interview with The Irish Times, revealed that if it wasn’t for the clause in his contract with Connacht that allows him to walk away from his commitment as long as he gave six-month notice, then he wouldn’t have left the province.
“If they had listened to me, I wouldn’t be going anywhere because I wouldn’t break a contract,” Lam 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.”
There has been serious speculation surrounding the likes of Munster’s Rassie Erasmus this season too and Lam believes that this will be to the detriment of Irish rugby if the IRFU don’t remove the clause when they offer coaches these contracts.
“I thought ‘Jesus’, how bizzare, so I did the two years, and they offered me a two plus one year again [his second contract], 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.”
It’s a tricky situation and you can potentially see the benefit from an IRFU perspective, perhaps they can attract a higher calibre of coach when they know they have the caveat that they can leave as long as they give six-months notice.
On the other hand, as Lam outlines, is that coaches would be turned off because it generates a lack of trust in a manager’s ability – you either back him or you don’t.
It can be described as a case of what might have been for Connacht, undoubtedly supporters wanted Lam to remain but he’s off to Bristol and the province will hope that Keane can have the same positive impact on the squad as Lam did.