Bright future for Connacht youngsters

While Connacht await Robbie Henshaw's contract decision for next season, which had been expected before Christmas, Lam is continuing to add to his squad - the latest being the promotion of centre Peter Robb and Galwegian flanker Sean O'Brien this week from the Academy.

"We now have five boys out of the Academy, year three, signed up - boys who have been with us right through pre-season. Robb has made massive progress and we are really pleased where he is at, and O'Brien has shown in his performances, like everyone knows, he has a big future - again a good local boy.

"It is an ongoing process as we build the squad, and try to make it as strong as possible. Our goal - and everyone knows what our goal is - to play Champions Cup rugby next year, and we want to make sure we have squad that continues to grow and develop, and the more guys we retain the better."

Robb has made massive progress, says Lam. "We are really pleased where he is at the moment. He played in the Challenge Cup against Enisei and then the second Newcastle game when he got concussed making a big hit, but he's tracking really well."

Similarly local player Sean O'Brien is a player with a big future.

"He had that terrible injury when he was captain of the Ireland u20s, and missed the World Cup trip to New Zealand, which was devastating for him, and it was a long road to recovery, but he came back. He started slow, missed a big part of the pre-season, but joined the squad when he was fully fit, and he has shown in his performances, like everyone knows, he has a big future. We are really pleased with how he is going - and again, a good local boy, Clarenbridge. "

Lam says the retention of players is exciting.

"What it has shown in the Pro 12 and Premiership and Northen Hemisphere, is that realistically to survive and the way injuries are, you need 45 to 50 players minimum in your squad. Hence this season we had 39 - 40 when Aj arrived. You might strike it lucky getting no injuries with 40, but the statistics show there are going to be injuries, so to compete realistically you need to have that now."

Whether playing Champions Cup rugby or not, Lam says Connacht's budget remains the same.

"Whereas some other big clubs buy a player, we have to be very good at identifying talent and making sure our programme can get the best out of the players we have, and I think we have shown that. You have to find the gems, and the biggest part of those gems are players who are coachable, team players. A lot of things go into identifying players, whether here or overseas. It's not a case of talent, because talent has to be maximised, and if it can't or the player refuses to, it doesn't matter how starry he looks."

"We have a good structure now, it's as strong as it has ever been in Connacht Rugby, and we are thriving on it."

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