Pat Lam: Ireland call-ups a boost for rugby in Connacht
Connacht head coach proud to see players called up to Ireland squad to face Australia, Georgia and South Africa in November
Pat Lam believes the inclusion of five Connacht players in the Ireland squad for next month’s Guinness Series is a huge boost to the club and province.
Connacht’s 21-year-old centre Robbie Henshaw – a contender to succeed Brian O’Driscoll in the Ireland midfield – is joined by scrum-half Kieran Marmion, 22, prop Rodney Ah You, 25, uncapped full-back/wing Darragh Leader, 21, and New Zealand-born prop Nathan White, 33, in Joe Schmidt’s 37-man squad.
“It’s fantastic to have five of our Connacht men named in the squad for November,” Lam said. “Their inclusion is thoroughly deserved and we’re all very proud of them.
“When you consider this time last year we only had one player in the camp with Robbie, and now we have five, it is a huge testament to the players themselves, their team-mates, the backroom staff, and what we’re all trying to do here at Connacht Rugby.”
So often the poor relations in Irish rugby, once seen as a mere development club by the Irish Rugby Football Union, Connacht have enjoyed a promising start to the Guinness PRO12 season and, after the opening six rounds, are fifth in the league – winning on the road in Edinburgh and Treviso, and enjoying defeats over Newport Gwent Dragons and Leinster in Galway.
The only blips so far this season for Lam’s young side have been a 39-21 defeat at Glasgow Warriors and letting a lead slip in a 24-24 draw with Cardiff Blues at the Sportground, still a sizeable turnaround for a club that were bottom of the league in February last season.
“We’ve always said that there is nothing better than game time when it comes to players’ development,” Lam added.
“These guys have had the chance at Connacht to test themselves at the top level week-in week-out, and it’s proved invaluable in terms of getting their opportunity at a young age.
“I truly believe that there is more international recognition to come for Connacht players, and that is part of our own vision.”
Lam has stood by his inexperienced backline, which doesn’t offer the attacking flair of some clubs in the PRO12, but has found a way to dig in and graft for wins, and the former Samoan international praised the national team coaches for their work in helping to develop young players in Galway.
“Credit has to go to the Ireland coaches who have continued to make a big effort in coming out to the Sportsground, and to the other provinces, to meet the players and highlight to them what they are looking for in terms of the international team,” he said.
“This has been very beneficial in terms of building relationships and giving clarity to the players.”
While the focus for many rugby fans will be on the fortunes of the Leinster, Munster and Ulster, dubbed the Irish ‘big three’, Lam believes that there is more to come from the talented squad he has at his disposal, and more young rugby players from the province could come through the club’s pathway and go on wear the more famous green in Irish rugby.
“Everyone at Connacht Rugby, from our domestic to professional team, is working very hard to ensure our systems and structures are world class,” he added.
“We want to bring these young players through the Connacht system, and develop them so that they can go on and play for Ireland.
“To see home grown talent like Darragh and Robbie come through is special, and I know from what I have seen so far in my time here that there is a lot of talent in this province.
“One of the really pleasing aspects for everyone at Connacht is the inclusion of young Darragh Leader, who is following in the footsteps of local guys like [former Galwegians, Connacht and Ireland outside-half] Eric Elwood.
“From Galway, [Leader] has played all his rugby at grassroots level here, gone on to play for his province, and now could play for Ireland.
“This is part of the vision of Connacht Rugby. We are all very passionate about young players in our community having a pathway in Connacht to play for Ireland and this is driven massively by our CEO Willie Ruane – a local from Mayo, and former Connacht player himself.”