Few coaches have been more admired in Ireland in recent times than Pat Lam.
In guiding Connacht to a Pro 12 title last year, he resurrected a province previously thought surplus to requirements. Most impressively, he did it playing running, attractive rugby. Rugby that ultimately put Leinster to the sword in the final. His star has somewhat fallen in light of his decision to leave for Bristol next season, but not it hasn’t fallen as far as it appears to have gone in New Zealand.
As previously reported, Bristol recently confirmed the signing of All Black Steven Luatua. Such a signing is tremendous news for Bristol, and Pat Lam, who no doubt looks forward to working with the titanic forward next season.
It is, however, not as positive for New Zealand rugby. At just 25, Luatua already has 15 caps for the All Blacks and was likely part of Steve Hansen’s long term plans for the World Cup champions. His departure has clearly ruffled a few feathers, and sparked some very interesting comments from Hansen.
“If you’re an ex-New Zealander you should be a bit mindful about players’ careers.”
Lam quickly responded to the ‘ex-New Zealander’ sleight, on New Zealand radio, saying;
“I am not sure why Steve Hansen would unprecedentedly choose to single me out publicly and call me an ‘ex-New Zealander’.
“I was born in New Zealand to hard-working Samoan parents, I was educated in New Zealand and worked as a schoolteacher and a professional rugby coach in New Zealand.”
To question his heritage indeed looks bizarre, and out of character for a man of Hansen’s stature. Lam continued;
“I had the privilege and honor to represent both my country of birth and my country of heritage. I am a proud New Zealander and I’m also proud to be a Pacific Islander.
“The only reason we don’t live in New Zealand at the moment is I had an opportunity to continue to coach rugby professionally in Ireland and support my family after being sacked by the NZRU and the Blues.”
Having firmly established his NZ credentials, Lam continued by drawing comparison between himself and the plethora of Kiwi coaches currently plying their trade outside of the Land of the Long White Cloud;
“Myself and I’m sure many other New Zealanders who are living and working overseas do not consider ourselves ‘ex-New Zealanders’ just because we are not living in New Zealand.
“When I have joined the thousands of other Northern based Kiwis who attended and cheered on the All Blacks in their test matches in the Northern Hemisphere we certainly didn’t do so as ‘ex-New Zealanders’.
“I believe many New Zealanders would also be offended to be labelled an ‘ex-New Zealander’ by the All Black coach, as he has great influence because of his position of privilege and responsibility in representing New Zealand worldwide.”
Unfortunately, Hansen is yet to specify the criteria that render Lam an ‘ex-New Zealander’ in his eyes. Given he himself coached Wales from 2002-2004, he had better be careful how he chooses to do so.
Quotes via the New Zealand Herald.