The Rugby World Cup: A totally professional hitman

The Warrior: Pat Lam of Manu Samoa; David Llewellyn hears that the islanders' leader is a born destroyer

ACCORDING TO a recent scientific study carried out in New Zealand, the muscles of Polynesians are harder than those of Europeans. And that looks an irrefutable fact when you watch Pat Lam making or taking a tackle, or just running at defenders. This supremely conditioned athlete acts on a group of defenders rather in the way a splitter acts on a log when the woodsman has delivered a well-timed blow with a sledgehammer. Lumps fly off in every direction. On the rugby field, the only difference is that the poor dazed lumps have to get up and go through it all again, and again...

In the past, Northampton's Lam has admitted: "I would say in Samoa we almost prefer tackling to running with the ball. We thrive on physical contact." That is why any match involving the South Seas sides - Samoa, Tonga and Fiji - should prove to be a thunderous affair, featuring some of the biggest hits of the tournament.

Lam has made a huge impact on English rugby for other reasons as well, though. He is not just a hard-bodied headcase who feels no pain. His former coach at Northampton, Ian McGeechan, paints a very different picture of the man off the pitch. Almost a pacifist and, contrary to what he does to opponents on the pitch, a great respecter of his fellow men off it.

"He is a big family man, and they are deeply religious as a family," says McGeechan. "Pat is someone who is very concerned about people. When I was leaving the club he rang me from the South Seas, and the day after coming back, he came round to my house to talk to me."

But McGeechan, who left Franklin's Gardens to take up the post of Scotland coach after this World Cup, acknowledges the physical nature of Lam on the park. "He lives for contact. That is because in the South Seas, playing rugby and the physical contact in the game is all part of the warrior experience.

"And they won't waste talent, because they see that as a blessing. A God-given thing."

But Lam, who had played for New Zealand Colts before committing himself to Samoa, is also a thinker. McGeechan adds: "From my point of view as a coach the really good thing with Pat was his excitement about what we were trying to do at Northampton. A lot of what we were trying was new and a step ahead of everyone else. And he is using a lot of it with Samoa."

Someone else who had first-hand knowledge of Lam is John Gallagher, the former All Black full-back now director of rugby at Harlequins. "I knew Pat when he was a 19-year-old," he says. "We were in the New Zealand side at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1989. Off the field he was a shy young man. But on it you could already see that he was an explosive player, either with ball in hand or defending.

"Now at 30 he is a mature international footballer.He adopts a good body angle picking up at No 8. He is very fit. A good support runner picking good lines. I think he is very focused, very committed, and that definitely comes across when you talk to him. He takes his rugby very seriously and is an asset to any team."

McGeechan thinks Lam has improved since he came to Britain, joining Newcastle in 1996 before heading south to Northampton a couple of seasons later.

"He is outstanding," says McGeechan. "I think he has really blossomed since coming to the UK. He is such a good influence, he is so positive about playing and about trying things, and his excitement rubs off on everyone else. There is a buzz and a conviction to him and his play.

"His skill and power at close quarters has really given an edge to everyone at Northampton. He is just an outstanding player, because he can do so many different things and he is so comfortable doing them."

It is Lam's stated intention to retire from the game at international level once this tournament is over, although he fancies two or three more years at club level. He and his fellow countrymen, having reached the quarter-finals in two previous tournaments - 1991 and 1995 - are determined to at least match that, but if possible to improve on it this time around.

They have a few more professionals in the squad now, but none of them needs a financial incentive. For them there is the simple honour of playing for their country.

While no match is actually a battle, Lam and his team-mates are warriors all; and they will play like that. Richter is about to go off his scale.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
peopleBroadcaster has a new role bringing 'the big stories that matter' to US
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
Moves to regulate e-cigarettes and similar products as medicines come amid increasing evidence of their effectiveness
healthHuge anti-smoking campaign kicks off on Wednesday
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently
filmsAn 'eccentric' choice, certainly
Life and Style
An Internet security expert has warned that voice recognition technology needs to be more secure
techExperts warn hackers could control our homes or spend our money simply by speaking
Extras
indybest
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Real Staffing - Leeds - £18k+

£18000 - £27000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sales - Trainee Recruitment Co...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Progressive Rec.

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Progressive Recruitment are cu...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style