Pat Lam fires up at Steve Hansen's description of him as as 'ex-New Zealander'
Former Blues rugby coach Pat Lam has hit back at what he perceives as some heavy-handed criticism from All Blacks boss Steve Hansen around Steven Luatua's decision to sign a two-year deal with Bristol in England.
Lam has taken issue with Hansen's description of him as an "ex New Zealander", questioning how the All Blacks coach has the right to decide who is a New Zealander and who is not.
"I am not sure why Steve Hansen would unprecedentedly choose to single me out publicly and call me an 'ex-New Zealander', he said.
After it was announced earlier this week that Luatua, a 15-test All Black, would join relegation-threatened English Premiership outfit Bristol for the beginning of the 2017-18 northern season, Hansen expressed his disappointment that the 25-year-old loose forward hadn't discussed his situation with him personally.
Lam, currently plying his coaching trade with great success at Connacht in Ireland, will take up the top job at Bristol from the start of the next season, with Luatua his first major signing.
The Blues loose forward will see out the Super Rugby season before heading north and would be available for the All Blacks' series against the British and Irish Lions.
But Hansen's comments to Stuff on Tuesday, when Luatua's decision was made public, indicate that might be a long shot.
"It's always disappointing when you lose a good player, regardless of who he is," Hansen said. "In this case it's double disappointing because of the lack of communication. It wasn't as if we were able to engage in the process.
"Some agents once they get an offer they'll come to the table and negotiate; others don't. Steven's crew didn't want to talk because they are fearful we are going to change these guys' minds which is disappointing.
"He spoke briefly to the contracts team, and he's been tapped on the shoulder by Pat Lam which is disappointing too. If you're an ex-New Zealander you should be a bit mindful about players' careers. But when they decide to go you've got to support them. Steven has made that decision so we'll do that."
Lam has fired back, taking particular exception at being tagged an "ex-New Zealander".
“I am very saddened and disappointed that All Black head coach Steve Hansen has made a personal attack on myself and my family by calling me an ‘ex-New Zealander'," Lam said in a statement.
"Since professionalism began in 1996 many New Zealand rugby players have signed for overseas clubs coached by New Zealanders. Currently there are over 50 All Blacks playing for foreign teams and only four weeks ago 47-test capped current All Black Aaron Cruden was recruited by New Zealander Vern Cotter for Montpellier in France."
He said he didn't know why Hansen singled him out and call him an ‘ex-New Zealander’.
“I was born in New Zealand to hard-working Samoan parents. I was educated in New Zealand and worked as a schoolteacher and a professional rugby coach in New Zealand. I had the privilege and honour to represent both my country of birth and my country of heritage. I am a proud New Zealander and I’m also proud to be a Pacific Islander.
"The only reason we don't live in New Zealand at the moment is I had an opportunity to continue to coach rugby professionally in Ireland and support my family after being sacked by the NZRU and the Blues.”
Lam also raised the quite pertinent point that Hansen, too, had gone down the same path of coaching overseas to further his career.
“Did Steve Hansen consider himself an ex-New Zealander when he chose to leave New Zealand and coach the Wales national team against the All Blacks?
“Myself and I’m sure many other New Zealanders who are living and working overseas do not consider ourselves ‘ex-New Zealanders’ just because we are not living in New Zealand. When I have joined the thousands of other northern-based Kiwis who attended and cheered on the All Blacks in their test matches in the northern hemisphere we certainly didn't do so as ‘ex-New Zealanders’.
"I believe many New Zealanders would also be offended to be labelled an ‘ex-New Zealander’ by the All Black coach ... he has great influence because of his position of privilege and responsibility in representing New Zealand worldwide.
"Who determines and judges who is a New Zealander and who isn’t?
"I don't believe that has ever been the role of the All Black head coach."
* Hansen has responded that that he had not intended to offend the former All Black.
He said his reference had been meant to convey Lam as an ex-New Zealand coach, not an ex-New Zealander.