Pat Lam aiming to prolong Connacht’s fairytale season

Pat Lam: Coach of the year. Picture: Getty

Pat Lam: Coach of the year. Picture: Getty

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The weather may be bleaker than his Pacific island 
homeland but Connacht’s Samoan coach Pat Lam sees some similarities with the west of Ireland.

“Tough people” he says admiringly as he looks ahead to this weekend’s historic Guinness Pro12 semi-final against champions Glasgow in Galway.

The former Samoa No 8 was named the league’s coach of the year after guiding Ireland’s least heralded province to the play-offs for the first time.

The goal now is to take their fairytale season a step further and reach the final at BT Murrayfield and Lam, who arrived at the Sportsground three years ago, is desperate to deliver it.

“Probably the biggest thing about Connacht rugby is understanding the people of the west of Ireland,” said Lam.

“It’s about understanding the history. I did a bit of work there and one of the things that stood out strongly about the west of Ireland people is that they are tough people. That’s something I always admire. When they get knocked down they keep coming back.

“I was excited to be there. I wanted to continue to build on what was already there. The main thing was about changing the mindset about what we could do.

“Remember, I’ve come from a similar background with Samoa. We were underdogs but we were able to generate a lot of belief through culture, relationships and the way we worked. That’s all I wanted 
to add.”

If Connacht do reach the final at Scotland’s national stadium it will be a return to where Lam’s coaching career began when Ian McGeechan recruited him as a contact specialist for the 2003 World Cup.

Lam said: “I was talking to Geech just recently actually and he was congratulating me on the season so far. Some of the principles I learned with him are things I’m still doing. This was the beginning. This is where it all started.”

Tomorrow’s Sportsground venue couldn’t be more different than Murrayfield but it has become a sacred place to Lam and Glasgow can expect a hostile atmosphere. “I think it’s the way it transforms when there’s a game there,” said Lam when asked what makes the place special. “You walk out there when there’s no one there and you think ‘oh my gosh’. It’s got the dog track, it’s pretty average when there’s no one there.

“But the way it transforms on game day, when that place is full and with all the noise coming out of it, there’s not many places I know that can do that.

“Back in New Zealand you can get 30 or 40,000 in some of those stadiums, but they still won’t match the atmosphere of the Sportsground. That’s what I think is the magic of the place.”

Few know the place better than long-serving skipper John Muldoon, who is loving every minute of the Connacht renaissance. Early in his pro career the province was threatened with closure and Muldoon is emphatic about the magnitude of this season’s achievement.

“It’s huge,” he said. “Some of the younger players are probably sick of me talking about the history of where we’ve come from over the last few years. But I think Pat is a big driver of that as well.

“You’ve got to have a history before you can talk about what’s going to happen in the future. Connacht’s history is somewhat scarred with a lot of bad days but throughout those bad days there were some good days in there as well. To be where we are now means a lot of people went through hardship to get there.

“I’m just grateful that I’m still part of that, having a role and being able to enjoy it 
every week.

“I look at some of the players I’ve been friendly with over the years who would have given anything to be in my position right now. So I’m grateful that I’m still part of it. At the moment the fans are pinching themselves. They’re asking ‘is this really happening?’ Tickets have flown out the gates and I’m just delighted to be here.”

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