Some extremely surprising Irish rugby news is breaking in the last few minutes: Pat Lam is leaving Connacht rugby at the end of the season.
Connacht confirmed that the New Zealand-born head coach is to finish up as Head Coach of the Western province at the end of the current season, to take up a new coaching role elsewhere.
The Pro12 Champions confirmed the news this morning:
Connacht Rugby can today confirm that Pat Lam has announced he will be leaving the club at the end of the 2016/17 season. The former Samoa captain, currently in his fourth season with Connacht, will finish up next summer to take up a new coaching role.
Pat lam had this to say:
This has been one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my life as Connacht and Galway is such a special place for myself and my family. The friendships, support and memories we all have experienced throughout our time in the West of Ireland is truly heartfelt and will never be forgotten.
I feel extremely blessed to have been given an opportunity four years ago to build on the excellent work of Eric Elwood. I’m very proud that I can now pass on the baton with the knowledge that Connacht Rugby is truly seen as one of four strong provinces of Irish rugby.
Rugby should never be about the individual as players and coaches will always come and go. We have worked hard to have the structures and systems in place to ensure the future success of the province for our community. I truly believe that through our strategic plan and the vision of Grassroots to Green Shirts, Connacht Rugby is in an extremely strong place going forward.
There is a lot of rugby to be played between now and the end of the season and myself, our management team and the players are fully committed to our goals on and off the pitch. We are heading in to Champions Cup rugby this week on the back of so much hard work over the last number of years. We want to continue to inspire our community and we have many more opportunities on and off the field to do that this season.
The Connacht CEO Willie Ruane paid tribute to Lam:
Firstly I’d like to thank Pat for everything he has done for Connacht Rugby. He led the province to a first ever trophy and that will be something that will live long in the memory. While there is a lot of rugby yet to be played this season, we wish Pat, Steph and their family the very best in the next chapter of their lives.
Connacht Rugby has made a huge amount of progress over the last number of years, with Pat building on the great work of those who went before him and we remain extremely confident and excited about the future.
As a club, we will immediately engage with our Professional Games Board and the IRFU with respect to starting the process of recruiting our next head coach.
Bundee Aki tweeted his displeasure promptly:
Off the Ball and the Irish Times are reporting that Lam will join Bristol in the Aviva Premiership:
Breaking: Pat Lam has announced his departure from Connacht Rugby at the end of the 2016/17 season - he'll be joining Bristol Rugby.
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) December 5, 2016
Lam and Connacht will hold a press conference on Wednesday for a full debrief on the shock news. Lam only signed a three-year contract extension with Connacht in January 2015.