Edinburgh Rugby have been warned to beware of one of the shrewdest thinkers in the game when they tackle Connacht at Murrayfield in the RaboDirect Pro 12 League tonight.
The advice comes from their former player Alan Tait who has recent insight regarding the workings of Connacht’s new coach, Pat Lam, who played internationally both for the All Blacks and Samoa at flanker.
Eyebrows were raised when Lam, formerly with Auckland Blues, crossed the world during the summer to coach Connacht who are generally regarded as a development outfit in Ireland.
Tait and Lam go back a long way to playing days at Newcastle Falcons where they shared in a Premiership title triumph in 1998 and later enjoyed a spell together in the coaching box with Scotland, both as assistants.
“In my playing days many of my Newcastle tries came through working out early that Pat was a player whose running angles it was good to support.
“I geared my lines to getting on his shoulder because I knew gaps would open up that I could exploit,” said Tait.
Fast forward to this summer and Tait and his wife, Caroline, spent time on holiday in Galway just as Lam was taking up the coaching reins.
“I enjoyed catching up with Pat again and spent a few hours observing the structures he was putting in place at Connacht,” said ex Lions three-quarter Tait, whose son, Michael, had a loan spell with Edinburgh from Newcastle earlier this season.
“Pat learned a lot of his coaching ideas from Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer and it shows in the way he goes about things.
“Also, when we spoke last there were a lot of mentions from him about tapping into the methods of Graeme Henry (the All Blacks World Cup winning coach who is also from Auckland).
“At Connacht there aren’t a lot of resources compared to Munster, Leinster and Ulster but Pat cuts his cloth accordingly and uses that to his advantage by giving players their heads tactically in trying to bring them up through the ranks. The fact that there is no relegation in the PRO 12 is right up his street in that respect.
“While the English Premiership is all about driving things up through the forwards and dominating territorially, as I found out to my cost when coaching Newcastle, the Pro 12 gives players more scope for expression.
“In Connacht’s case Pat knows they can virtually give it a go every time they play and if he doesn’t have spending power he can achieve a lot through cultivating good team spirit and atmosphere within the squad.
“What is generally expected of Connacht is there will be a few setbacks but also some really good results from time to time. In recognising that Pat allows the team to attack whenever it is on to do so and even empowers the wingers to call the moves occasionally, which is unusual.
“Most teams let the stand off call the shots and if he wants it a game controlled from there who better than Dan Parks to have in the position.” Parks, 35, retired from Scotland duty with 66 caps and 260 points in 2012.
Tait added: “At set pieces expect Connacht to have up to four playing options and, for me, they will be dangerous as Pat settles in and gets his message across to the players. Every week a Connacht team with no fear will go out and look to play positively and on the big Murrayfield international pitch they will have every chance to do that.”
Despite last year’s success in Edinburgh and opening with a win over Zebre, the West of Ireland province, who qualified for this season’s Heineken European Cup, have been struggling to put results together although their last three outings have been tantalisingly close. After going down 13-16 at Leinster they then lost successive home games to Glasgow (12-19) and Scarlets (21-24) so Edinburgh will be aware they are getting closer to finding a winning formula.
Lam knows his side have lost seven league games in a row and need to move off the foot of the table by repeating last season’s 32-24 victory at Murrayfield.
“Obviously there is a big focus to go over there and get a win, but it’s more on doing our jobs. We need to win, we know that,” said Lam.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh have wasted no time drafting Greig Laidlaw, Nick De Luca, David Denton and Ally Dickinson, all of whom figured in the three Autumn internationals, straight back into their starting line-up.
Ross Rennie makes his first start of the season after summer shoulder surgery and there is a tenth consecutive start at stand off for Harry Leonard.
Only Cornell Du Preez, Willem Nel and Ollie Atkins survive from the forwards who started last time against Ulster.