Connacht fans were taken aback when Pat Lam announced his decision to leave the province at the end of the season and join Premiership strugglers, Bristol.
Lam had guided Connacht to an unlikely Pro12 title last season, and revolutionised the way in which the western province play the game.
Not only that, but given the age profile of Connacht’s squad, and their success in retaining Bundee Aki and Ultan Dillane, Lam’s revolution looked to be sustainable in the longer term.
However, his impending departure caused some uncertainty for the province, as the list of potential candidates to succeed Lam seemed to lengthen with each passing week.
Indeed, as Johnny O’Connor explained to us on the Oval Office Podcast this week, the best possible successor to Pat Lam is someone who will bring a similar style and philosophy to Connacht.
Connacht seem to be of a similar opinion, after the Sunday Times reported that Highlanders coach, Tony Brown, tops their short list of potential candidates.
Attaining Brown would certainly be a coup for the province, as he had been linked with moves to rival New Zealand franchises after the Highlanders claimed their maiden Super Rugby title in 2015.
Although Brown served Jamie Joseph’s assistant that season, he was subsequently handed the role of head coach when the later left for Japan in last year.
However, if Connacht were to attain Brown, he would be unable to join the province until after the conclusion of the Highlander’s Super Rugby campaign.
Therefore, if the Highlanders were to make the final, then Brown would not become available until August.
A price Connacht might be willing to pay, but hardly ideal given the how the province struggled during the early weeks of this campaign following a disrupted pre-season.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena