Connacht ready to unveil Lam as Elwood’s successor
By Linley Mackenzie
Pat Lam is expected to be named as Connacht’s successor to Eric Elwood in the next couple of days.
Although Connacht CEO Tom Sears had planned to announce the new appointment near the end of the month, it is believed the province wishes to end the intense media speculation which has heightened since Sean Holley admitted to turning down an offer for personal reasons,.
Alex King was also touted before his move from Clermont to Northampton, while also in the running were current assistant coach Dan McFarland, backs coach Billy Millard, and former Sale and Wasps coach Tony Hanks.
A talented backrow forward and former Manu Samoa captain, Lam had playing stints in the Northern Hemisphere with Northampton and Newcastle.
He cut his coaching teeth with Auckland Air New Zealand Cup side before taking over the Blues. However he lost the job last year to former All Black John Kirwan. Since then the 44-years-old was recruited by Samoa as attack coach and mentor for the three-test match tour against Canada, Wales and France.
The appointment will end continued “breaches in confidentiality” which earliler this week Sears slammed as a lack of respect.
Sears, who headed the four-man interview committee charged with employing the new head coach, said it was important to "keep the integrity of the process intact".
" Right from the outset we said we would respect the confidentiality of the process, and it's unfortunate that other people haven't.
"I am frustrated by people not respecting the confidentiality. I think it lacks respect and I think certain people have lacked respect for Connacht rugby in the way they have gone out in the media," says Sears.
" If someone wants to go the press bleating about why didn't they get the job, why didn't they get an interview, that's their issue, but for the respect of the position and the integrity of the process, that's what we are going to stick to. I am probably old fashioned, but I think any recruitment process should be completely confidential."
Sears also maintained that Connacht has gone about the process the right way, including keeping players in the loop.
"Everyone has an opinion and you will never stop that, but I disagree with what has been written. I believe we have done the process the right way, and I think if people had respected the confidentiality of the process, we would not have had an issue.
"We are at an advanced stage, we are not ruling anything out at the moment.”
Players sign new contracts
Sears said the issue of the new coach had not hindered Connacht's recruitment process.
"We are being aggressive and ambitious in the recruitment process both in Ireland and overseas as well. We are looking to retain our own players and bring top classes internationals in next season - including a replacement for Mike McCarthy."
It has been tweeted that South African lock Andries Bekker has been approached by an Irish province, in addition to several French and English clubs, while yesterday No 8 George Naoupu, hooker Jason Harris-wright, lock Mick Kearney and another talented home-grown player Eoin McKeon have put pen to paper with new contract signings.
"The retention of key players such as George, Jason, Mick and Eoin is another clear indication that we intend to retain our best players and continue to build for a successful future,” says Sears.
“ The fact that all of the four have committed to Connacht in the face of strong interest from elsewhere is a demonstration of both the progress they have made as players and the progress we are making as a province.”
New Zealander Naoupu, who can play both in the back and second rows, has been given a two-year contract with the option of a year’s extension. With 44 Connacht caps already, the popular 30 years-old is regarded as an influential member of the Connacht team.
Jason Harris-Wright, Mike Kearney and Eoin McKeon have each signed two year extensions. Harris-Wright, a product of the Leinster Academy and a former Irish u-20 player, joined Connacht last summer on a one-year deal and has become a regular figure in the team, particularly with injuries to Ethienne Reynecke.
Injuries to key players have also given 21-years-old Mick Kearney his opportunity this season, and his physical presence has made a big impression, while Galway-born Eoin McKeon has grown into the Connacht backrow and his consistency has been rewarded with several Heineken Cup starts.