'The players were shocked' - Connacht CEO Willie Ruane on news of Pat Lam's departure
On tonight's Off The Ball, Ruane discusses the exit of a huge figure in Connacht Rugby and what's next for the province20:25 Monday 5 December 2016, 20:25 5 Dec 2016
Connacht Rugby was left in a state of shock this morning with the news that Pat Lam would be leaving his position as head coach at the end of the season.
Lam has been a towering figure in Connacht Rugby since taking charge of the team and led them to a first ever Pro12 title last year with victory over Leinster.
His achievements have been so great, that the news of his departure came as a surprise to the entire Irish rugby community and speaking on tonight's Off The Ball, Connacht Rugby CEO Willie Ruane confirmed that these sentiments were echoed in the dressing room.
"I spoke to [the players] immediately after Pat spoke to them this morning," he said. "They were shocked and that's the truth. It came as a bit of a bolt out of the blue for many of them, one or two of them might have heard a rumbling over the weekend.
"For the vast majority of them, they had no idea this was coming. It was a little bit of a shock to them and I don't mind saying that they were a little taken aback for the rest of the morning. But as the day went on, they've had time to digest it and I caught up with some of them again after lunch.
"After they started to get their head around it, they are very much focused on the fact that it's a Champions Cup week. We've a job to do this weekend and the following weekend. It's amazing how quick the guys can kick into that mode.
"In one way it's difficult to hear news like this but in another way they have to re-focus and get on with the job. That's what they're doing."
Lam will now join Bristol as head coach on a three-year deal starting in June and Ruane commended the Kiwi's achievements in the position.
"Pat has been a very significant figure in the context of not just Connacht Rugby, but Connacht life in general over the last while. We're disappointed to see him go, that's for sure. But at the same time, we're still pretty positive and excited about what the future holds for Connacht Rugby.
"I met with him on Friday and he explained the situation. It came as a bit of a shock in fairness, I didn't get up that morning thinking I was going to hear it. At the same time, he was pretty straight up with what the situation was.
"We're disappointed, but we can't be anything but very grateful for what Pat has done for Connacht Rugby since he's arrived here."
Rumours had circulated prior to the announcement, something which Ruane admits that he was aware of.
"I won't pretend I hadn't heard some element of speculation that was out there, that there might have been some conversation about it.
"The specific news with regards to Bristol, that didn't arrive until Friday... I said to Pat was there anything we could do in terms of convincing him to reconsider before he made the final decision. But he's his own guy, he would have thought that well through before I would have spoken to Pat.
"He was very honest. He told me he had made his decision at that stage, understanding all the factors that go into making any such decision.
"It's not that you're going ton twist their arm and convince them otherwise. He's very much his own guy and we very much wanted to keep him and expressed that to him, but he would have thought it well through before I had sat down with him."
Ruane insisted that there was no "ill-feeling" toward Lam and maintained that the players would continue with the job at hand. However, Bundee Aki, an influential figure in the Connacht dressing room, did tweet:
Feeling pissed😡— Bundee Aki (@bundeeaki12) December 5, 2016
Ruane spoke about the challenge now of finding a replacement and admitted the candidate would not necessarily be Irish.
With regards to Lam's legacy at the province he said: "We've put in a number of systems and structures that are not soley dependent on one person.
"Parading a PRO12 trophy around the whole province and the legacy effect of that, there are kids playing rugby this season and have picked up a ball simply because of what they saw last May, that's a legacy that will never be lost. It's something I think Pat can be very proud of."
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