Sunday 23 October 2016

Lam: We won't fail to prepare for this

European win at Toulouse was turning point in 2013

Pat Lam. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Pat Lam. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"Fail to prepare; prepare to fail." - Roy Keane

Pat Lam likes to reach right back into his vast memory vault when it comes to dealing with the here and now.

Connacht will cross the Irish sea to come face-to-face with their final frontier this season at the home of Scottish rugby in the PRO12 League final.

Besides centre Bundee Aki pocketing the Super Rugby title with Waikato Chiefs, Lam is short of proven winners to guide his men through the minefield that this week can become.

"Probably the biggest learning I've ever had, it's one that was massive for me as a young player, was Rugby World Cup 1991 with Samoa," he recalled.

"I remember we beat Wales and just lost to Australia and beat Argentina.

"That whole time, we had no one at training, we could go anywhere without being interrupted, we stayed in a three star hotel.

"Everything was low profile and we went about our business.

"Then, we qualified for the quarter-finals and we went to Scotland.

"Everything changed. It was an unbelievably crazy week.


"We had families in hotels, more gear, we were staying 5-star hotels. The boys had buffet food. It was a complete change.

"Scotland in the mean-time, with Ian McGeechan - he told me exactly what they did - they got themselves into Test match mode, no interruptions, and they came out and blitzed us in the quarter-final."

The week of a final has to mirror every other week.

Players are creatures of habit. It is all about routine and repetition.

And still. Outside The Sportsground, the city, the province is changed. The distractions are everywhere.

"The worst thing you can do is insulate them (the players)," he acknowledged.

"There is a lot of goodwill and I know the boys have all seen the same sort of things, seen the flags. It's great.

"It's being able to say 'this is over here, and it's great, but this is what we do'.

"I think that's the most important thing and we've been doing that all year."

In many ways, the seeds for the current harvest were sown in December 2013 when Connacht shocked Toulouse in the Heineken Cup in the South of France.

"I thought after that win there, the way I remember about that was it was a massive turning point for me in the sense of what we did and what we could do.

"The way we peaked for that game that day was we were here and then 'boom' we hit there," he gesticulated with his hands.

"We knew we had a lot of work to do, but that gave us confidence of what we could do.

"The reason we didn't celebrate that was we had a six day turnaround. We had to get back here to play them (Toulouse) on the Friday.

"It was just a win. There wasn't something to celebrate. We just had a good win.

"If we win on the weekend, that's when we have a big celebration."

It has been a journey of discovery for Connacht which culminated in the semi-final domination of Glasgow Warriors, producing one of those good old-fashioned pitch invasions.

"I knew a lot of people. That was the cool thing," he recalled.

"Normally, it's just people but these were people you knew , some from my kids' school, some from neighbours, people I have just seen around the place.

"It was fantastic and, then, when I was walking off you could see people on their phones.

"I said: 'what are you up to?'

"And they said: 'we're trying to book flights.'

"Everyone was trying to get going. It was just a massive buzz."

The people of Connacht will take planes, trains and automobiles to get to Murrayfield.

It is their first final. It could even be their last. Or is this a permanent change in the landscape of Irish rugby?

Can Connacht make a sustainable challenge?

Much will be revealed in Scotland on Saturday evening.

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