Pat Lam on Irish rugby: They're copying us

Pat Lam coaching Connacht. Photo /Craig Thomas
Pat Lam coaching Connacht. Photo /Craig Thomas

Pat Lam has let the secret out of the bag on why Irish rugby is now able to compete on equal footing with New Zealand - it's all because they are copying us!

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery and the former Samoan and All Black test player says that is what is behind Ireland's emergence as a growing international force in the game.

Now coach of the Connacht province in Ireland, the former Blues boss told Radio Sport's morning breakfast show that the Irish had deliberately copied New Zealand's rugby system.

He said the cunning plan began back in 2013 when Kiwi Joe Schmidt was elevated from his role as Leinster coach to the national job. Lam had arrived in Ireland the same year to take over Connacht.

"There was already a big Kiwi influence here when I first arrived here," he told Radio Sport.

"Joe had obviously had big success at Leinster in changing their mindset, Rob Penney was at Munster, Mark Anscombe was at Ulster and then I arrived and picked up the west of Ireland.

"When Joe got the (national) job, we talked about the way the All Blacks did things with (then coach) Graham Henry moving around the Super Rugby provinces.

"And Joe got us all in. The previous national coach never came out to Connacht area really. So Joe got up in front of all the provinces and the players saw it a genuine step. Now there's good alignment with what we're trying to do through the provinces.

"Then obviously there's (former Wallaby and Blues coach) David Nucifora who runs the professional game and he has been through the New Zealand system.

"So there's a lot of mirroring if you like, trying to change Irish rugby to be more like the structure of New Zealand."

Lam said Schmidt and others had looked deeply into the New Zealand rugby system.

"One of the things that they looked at when they looked at New Zealand was what grows the game, and accepting that it is the All Blacks being successful because it funds the game and inspires kids around the country," he said.

"Over here, there are still traditional people who want the Leinsters and Munsters to be number one but the reality is you can't beat the English and French clubs with their big owners. And we are centrally contracted by the Irish RFU so there does need to be a focus on that national team."

Lam says that approach is reaping huge benefits and not just around the full national team.

He pointed out that Ireland's under 20 team defeated the Scott Robertson-coached New Zealand side at the recent world junior tournament, reaching the final against England.

He also pointed out how the Irish women's team had defeated the Black Ferns in the last year.

"I'm not surprised at all (about the Chicago result). It comes down to the structure and everyone doing their bit."

"One of the lessons from the review of the last (full) World Cup was the need to build depth.

"Joe has done that."

Lam said the win in Chicago did not catch him out.

"I was actually on a live TV panel here and they asked me before the game if I thought Ireland had a chance. I said yes because I knew Joe would have a plan," he said.

"It's been huge here. All of the national papers are full of the game."

Lam also was unsurprised that New Zealand fans had greeted Ireland's win warmly.

"There's a strong connection between New Zealand and Ireland and it's great."

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