This week started off with the shocking news that Pat Lam is set to leave Guinness Pro 12 Champions Connacht only 18 months into his 3 year contract. A massive turn of events and a huge blow to the province who are set to lose the third member of 2016’s all-conquering coaching ticket. Lam is set to follow Andre Bell & Dave Ellis out of Galway, as he takes up a lucrative contract with Aviva Premiership strugglers Bristol.
Lam’s decision to swap the defending champions of the Pro 12 for a (likely) second tier English team ahead of the next season has been widely criticized. The advancements that the Samoan coach has made at the helm of Connacht have been admirable and inspiring, so for him to leave after such a pinnacle season is a shocking blow. However with such a vast sum of money at stake, it is an offer that is altogether too tempting for the Connacht head coach.
Money is a dirty word in professional sport, and it has cast a shadow over Lam’s decision. A player – or a coach in this matter – who moves from one club to another for better pay can often be branded as money grabbing & disloyal. Even though most of the population move from job to job based on financial motives, it is seemingly not acceptable in the lucrative world of professional sport.
However in a world where you are only as good as your last few games, your stock can plummet instantly.
Pat Lam is riding the crest of a wave at the moment. He’s enjoyed tremendous success for Connacht, and the impact he has had on the province has been staggering. It makes him an extremely attractive proposition for any team, but that can change in an instant. Lam was released from his contract with Super Rugby side the Blues in 2012 following a difficult year in charge, so he is no stranger to the fickle nature of management. One or two years of indifferent results/any struggles with Connacht & he wouldn’t be as desirable. Bristol is a huge opportunity for Lam, and one that he could never rely on having again.
As he outlined during the week, the untimely death of Munster head coach Anthony Foley has had far reaching repercussions. With five children Lam’s responsibilities lie far beyond the Sportsground, and the offer Bristol put in front of him was too good to ignore.
A massively disappointing time for Connacht & all of Irish Rugby, but Connacht’s progress will not end with Lam. He’s instilled something new in Galway and leaves behind a healthier province which the correct infrastructure to develop further. His reign will always be remembered for delivering the club’s first silverware, and it’s a legacy and foundation that both parties can build on.