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'I 100% believe Pat Lam will be in charge next year' - Connacht CEO
Meanwhile, Willie Ruane knows he has a battle on his hands to keep Bundee Aki.

CONNACHT CEO WILLIE Ruane is 100% confident Pat Lam will be in charge of the province next season.

Pat Lam James Crombie / INPHO Lam is not going anywhere, according to Ruane. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Lam has been linked with the vacant head coach position at Premiership club Bath and was coy when asked about the speculation on Tuesday, referring to “clauses” in his contract at Connacht.

However, Ruane stated that he has no worries whatsoever about Lam – whose current contract with the province extends until 2018 – leaving after Connacht’s best-ever season.

“I 100% believe Pat will be in charge of the team next year,” said Ruane at Connacht’s launch of their ‘Vision and Strategy: 2016-2020‘ in the Aviva Stadium yesterday. “It isn’t something that I am genuinely concerned about.”

Asked to clarify whether Lam’s contract at Connacht includes clauses that may allow the head coach to leave if approached by certain clubs, Ruane said:

“No, there are no specific clauses with regards to bigger clubs or Premiership clubs or anything like that.”

On a day when Connacht showcased their ambitious plans for the next four years – including a new 10,000-capacity stadium and a Champions Cup play-off target – Ruane was keen to stress that the province as a whole is moving forward, with Lam one part of that.

The former Connacht fullback believes the organisation will be able to deal with any staff departures as a result.

“This kind of stuff comes up all the time,” said Ruane. “The one thing I’m absolutely confident about is that Pat is very, very happy in Connacht rugby and he’s doing an incredible job and he gets Connacht rugby.

“The other thing I can guarantee is that Pat won’t be there forever, neither will I, neither will Eric Elwood, neither will Nigel Carolan, or the players. What we’re trying to do is set up a structure that whoever is there, Connacht Rugby is in the best position to move forward in whatever shape or guise or whatever personality is there.

“I’m absolutely happy with where we’re at right now but all of that stuff is subject to change whether it’s two years, five years, 10 years. We just need to make sure we’re set up as well as we possibly can be to do the job we want to do.”

That said, some cogs in the machine remain a little more vital than others at this moment in Connacht’s progress.

Bundee Aki Morgan Treacy / INPHO Bundee Aki has been a sensation for Connacht. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Bundee Aki is the star of Lam’s side at present and will attract interest from New Zealand, France and elsewhere in the next year or so as the end of his current Connacht contract in the summer of 2017 looms.

Aki qualifies to play for Ireland in October 2017 and the sense is that the IRFU will, therefore, play a part in the negotiations to keep the Kiwi native on Irish soil beyond next season.

Joe Schmidt is, unsurprisingly, a fan of Aki’s dynamic skills and he appears to be a guaranteed Ireland international if he decides to remain here and qualify on residency grounds. Ruane is hopeful that can be another reason the 26-year-old opts to stay.

“We are genuinely constantly in dialogue with David Nucifora,” said Ruane when asked if Connacht will work with the IRFU in regards to Aki.

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“I’m actually meeting him [Nucifora] after this event today, again, to talk about the next stage of where we’re going. That discussion [about Aki], I would say you can take it as a given that whenever it makes sense to start a conversation early, we start the conversations early.”

Ruane is realistic about the fact that Connacht will have a battle on their hands to retain Aki, but he is confident the same environmental qualities that he hopes will keep Lam in Ireland apply to the powerful centre.

“Of course, that’s a great complaint isn’t it?” said Ruane of the expected interest in Aki. “I mean if he wasn’t performing and no one wanted him, it’s a bigger problem. The fact that he’s performing so well and he’s performing for Connacht is a great thing for us.

“Obviously, the challenge is to hold on to, not just him, but the other players as well. But I genuinely believe that the experience and the environment that they are operating in, they get it, they actually believe in what we are trying to do.

“That doesn’t take away from the fact that there are clubs out there with very deep pockets, but that’s professional sport.”

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