Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Emotional Mealamu defends Lam

Blues head coach, Pat Lam (left) and Kevin Mealamu. File photo / Getty Images
Blues head coach, Pat Lam (left) and Kevin Mealamu. File photo / Getty Images

An emotional Blues captain Keven Mealamu today apologised on behalf of his players for the fact coach Pat Lam will effectively lose his job at the end of the year.

The Blues board and chief executive Andy Dalton have finally acted in a bid to stop the franchise imploding further during a disastrous season which has seen just one win in 10 matches, leaving them rooted to the bottom of the Super Rugby table.

In announcing that Lam's job will be advertised next week, the official line was that the 43-year-old was welcome to apply but he is unlikely to be seen in any role at the franchise next year.

Dalton and board chairman Gary Whetton, along with Lam - who will remain for the rest of the season - fronted the media at training today but it was Mealamu who looked the most upset.

The media were originally told that no players would be available for interview but Mealamu forced a change when saying he wanted to say a few words about Lam, who he referred to as "coach''.

No questions were permitted.

"From a players' point of view we're pretty disappointed we let coach down and we failed him, not through effort, but through execution on the field,'' Mealamu said.

"We all turn up here prepared and ready to face each week but it's been one of those things this year, we've just struggled and what makes it tougher is that we've left coach in his situation which was the last thing we wanted to do. I know coach is a proud Auckland man, a proud Blues man, brought up in this region, and we're disappointed we weren't able to look after him on the field.

"Obviously coach is responsible for preparing us, but at the end of the day us players have the responsibility of getting out there and getting the result on the field.''

Lam said he was "all good'' about the decision, adding he was told last night and discussed it with his family.

"I can only speak for myself and my whole focus is about trying to get a win this week, so it's not a problem for me. I'm excited about the opportunity we have this weekend [against the Lions at Eden Park on Friday]. I'm all good.

"As soon as they got told, I just reminded the boys, it doesn't change my job here. I'm all good, I've got a beautiful wife, I've got five good children. I spoke to them last night about it and said it's an exciting time for us. We've been blessed in what we've been able to do right up to this moment. Whether we're here next year or somewhere else, it's exciting.

"We're tight as a family. As soon as I said it was exciting, they all starting throwing their suggestions in, my little five-year-old said when we started mentioning countries, `hey, what about Disneyland'.''

Lam's last comment revealed he is likely to head overseas and he has already been linked to several clubs, including Bath in England.

Lam has been with the Blues for four seasons and his record shows 24 wins, 29 defeats and one draw. Under him the Blues reached the semifinals last season, seventh in 2010 and ninth in 2009. He signed on as Blues coach in 2008, a year after coaching an unbeaten Auckland side to a provincial title as well as securing the Ranfurly Shield.

Whetton admitted the fact the decision had been made with six games remaining this season was a test of character for Lam.

"I think it's important he has the support of the team behind him. He has, they're hurting for him as much as anyone else, we all are really. And I think you will see the calibre of the man.

"It's the right thing to do for us, for the Blues, to go forward, to look at the best options.''

Dalton was cagey about candidates, saying the best "team'' would be considered which suggested more than one coach will be appointed.

Asked whether John Kirwan had shown any interest, Dalton said: "There's a number of coaches who have shown interest already, but clearly the job hasn't been available and we've made no approaches to anybody at all.''

He added that the Blues would continue to work closely with the New Zealand Rugby Union through the appointment process, but said the national organisation had not pointed the franchise in any particular direction regarding a replacement.

- APNZ

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