An emotional Pat Lam has hit out at racial criticism being fired about as a reason for the failings of his Blues team.
The racial theories of a Blues squad coached by a Samoan and containing many Polynesian players have started to invade internet message boards and talkback radio as the team struggles with five losses and just one win in Super Rugby.
Lam twice broke down, fighting back tears, as he tried to explain his anger at that to a large throng of media in Auckland today.
He made it clear he and his players were happy to have criticism thrown at them for their sloppy start to the season but there was no place for the racial undertones.
"It's sad really, it really is," he said as he named his team to play the Sharks in Auckland on Friday night.
"We totally accept the criticism that we get when we don't perform. But it's the racist people ... the social media and talkback where people say things that are pretty offensive.
"The question about the racial stuff is what I'm upset about.
"It's just sad that we live in a country that has that but it's just a minority and I know that."
Lam said he could take the criticism but wasn't prepared to have it affect his family, particularly his parents who "sacrificed themselves for us to come here and have a good life".
"It's different when it's a racial thing. The emotion is about my parents," he said, stepping back to gather himself.
"For me it's a job. I'm enjoying the job and I enjoy the fact that as a team we come together and are working hard to get out of this adversity.
"When I think about my parents and the tough times they went through to be the people they are ... that's what I am, that's what I'm working to do with this team."
Lam said the success of his players, many who were Polynesian or Maori, couldn't be argued against. These included World Cup winners.
"I feel for all the guys in the team ... Keven Mealamu and his family and all the boys that have island backgrounds or Maori backgrounds. It's really offensive.
"When they win and when they suceed .. look at the All Blacks team that won the World Cup .. there's a lot of (island and Maori) guys there.
"I know that within this team we have a really good bunch of guys who are going through a really challenging time. But we are doing it together and when we come out of it we will be better people and a better team."
It has been a tough day for the Blues with skipper Mealamu opening up on the disappointment at the physical state star import Piri Weepu had turned up in after his shift north from the Hurricanes.
Weepu has been overweight and struggling to get a start in the Blues side. He has been named on the bench again in the team to play the Sharks that also features All Blacks lock Ali Williams being dropped to the bench.
Weepu also fronted the media today and admitted he had been guilty of getting caught up in the celebrations after the World Cup and losing his focus for this year's Super rugby.
He said the World Cup had been an eight year crusade for him, especially after the disappointment of missing the 2007 tournament.
"I enjoyed my time in my break. Obviously I'm a bit disappointed in that. But I'm not looking backwards any more. When I first got here I was a bit out of shape but I have made gains on that," Weepu said.
Weepu felt he still had the respect of his team mates.
"We are a solid team," he said.
Weepu expressed his shock at the racial taunts being levelled at his coach.
"I never really thought people would be like that towards Pat ... in terms of being racist and things like that. Pat's a great guy. It's not just Pat doing his job ... everyone else running out on the field has a responsibility. We know that Pat shoulders quite a bit of it and so does Kevvy but it is about us collectively staying together and pushing through it as a whole squad."
Lam has made several changes to the team that capitulated in Melbourne to lose to the Rebels last Thursday night.
Liaki Moli comes in to replace Williams. Dan Braid is fit again to reclaim his No 7 jersey alongside his flanker brother Luke and Chris Lowrey moves from blindside to No 8, taking over from Brad Mika.
In the backline Hadleigh Parkes wins the right wing berth from Lachie Munro.
Lam said he felt Williams had carried a big workload through the first phase of the season and would be more effective off the bench this weekend.
He maintained that under the current circumstances the bench was still the best place for Weepu.
BLUES: Rudi Wulf, Hadleigh Parkes, Benson Stanley, Ma'a Nonu, Rene Ranger, Gareth Anscombe, Alby Mathewson, Chris Lowrey, Daniel Braid, Luke Braid, Filo Paulo, Liaki Moli, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu (c), Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Tom McCartney, Tevita Mailau, Ali Williams, Peter Saiili, Piri Weepu, Michael Hobbs, George Moala.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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