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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 27 June, 2019
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Lam heeds '91 Samoan lesson as Connacht prepare for first-ever final

‘We have to go about our business as normal as possible.’

PAT LAM SAYS he is drawing on the lessons he learned as a player in Samoa’s 1991 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Scotland as his Connacht side prepare for their first-ever final in Saturday’s Guinness Pro12 decider against Leinster.

Lam understands that the hype surrounding Connacht’s trip to Edinburgh this weekend has the potential to distract his relatively inexperienced squad, having seen that himself in ’91.

With that experience in mind, he has changed as little as possible about Connacht’s week of preparation.

Connacht’s  head coach Pat Lam Lam oversaw Connacht training in Galway today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It’s what we do all the time – when we finished the Glasgow game, an hour after all the post-match stuff I sent the schedule,” said Lam today in Galway.

“It took me five minutes to write up the schedule because it’s just a repeat of our normal schedule, highlighting the travel we have. I know there’s a lot of requests for different things to do but we’ve kept it as normal as possible.

“Probably the biggest learning I’ve ever had, it’s one that was massive for me as a young player, was at the Rugby World Cup in 1991 with Samoa.

“I remember we beat Wales and just lost to Australia and beat Argentina. That whole week – it’s clear in mind – we had no one at training, we could go anywhere without being interrupted, we stayed in a three-star hotel. Everything was low profile and we went about our business.

“Then we qualified for the quarter-finals and we went to Scotland. Everything changed. Media, all sorts of activities. It was an unbelievably crazy week.

“We had families in hotels, more gear, we were staying five-star hotels, the boys had buffet food. It was a complete change.

“Scotland in the meantime, with Ian McGeechan – he told me exactly what they did – they got themselves into Test match mode, no interruptions.

“They came out and blitzed us in the quarter-final. It was a massive learning curve for me as I went on to captain teams.

Pat Lam and Peter Clohessy and Peter Stringer  27/5/2000 Lam in the 2000 Heineken Cup final. Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

“At the moment, it was a massive anniversary for me – it’s my boy Josiah’s birthday today and he was the one who, when we [Northampton] were going to play Munster 16 years ago, he was supposed to be due on the day of the final.

“The boys knew I wouldn’t be there if my wife went into labour, so there was a back-up plan. As it panned out, he turned out on [this date, i.e three days before the final against Munster].

“I remember that whole week too, part of the learning I used right through was making that whole week normal as we played Munster. It’s something I’ve always done as a coach, a big lesson.

“You acknowledge all the peripheral stuff and we’re excited. It’s a great occasion, we’re so pleased to be here and we’ve worked hard to be here, but we understand that if we’re going to win this thing, which is what we desperately want to do, we have to go about our business as normal as possible.”

Connacht fans have been desperately scrambling to secure transport to Edinburgh this weekend, as well as increasingly expensive hotel rooms. Some loyal supporters will even travel on buses that will also serve as a place to sleep the night before the final.

Lam sympathises with those travails but urges everyone who possibly can to get involved.

“I’m trying to get my family over there too and at the moment they’re going to have to go over on Thursday and back Monday, because the price to get all of them there, I could have only afforded one of them to go on Friday- Sunday.

“At the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s the same principle, we can’t control it. You only control what you can. You all know the reasons why it is that way. If you want to get there, you’ll get there.

“I understand that a lot people can’t go now, but there’s a lot of Irish people in the UK.

Bundee Aki surrounded by fans after the game Connacht's fans are scrambling to plan their weekend in Edinburgh. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I’ve already had a lot of messages from friends in Northampton who are going to head up and watch, friends in Newcastle who are going to head up, and I know some of them are Irish.

“My message is that if there’s a will, there’s a way. Those who live over there, get out and enjoy it. It’s going to be a fantastic game, the weather looks good, great stadium and it’s a great time to kick off at 5.30pm. Get out there and enjoy it.”

Happily, Lam was able to report that Connacht suffered no new injuries in last weekend’s semi-final victory over Glasgow.

There were “bumps and bruises” as usual, but Lam was delighted to deliver “the shortest injury update of the season.” Wing Danie Poolman is available for selection again after recovering from a foot injury.

Lam also confirmed that Connacht’s entire squad, including academy players who have been involved this season, will be travelling to the final to support “the lucky ones” who have been selected to play.

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Murray Kinsella

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