Bristol Rugby has never established itself as a consistent team in the English Premiership, the club has been relegated from the league on 4 occasions and Bristol have spent a total of 10 seasons in the Championship. The club has been relegated, then promoted before facing relegation once again. This season Bristol rugby has a completely different look and feel surrounding the club, I think it has all started with their head coach.
Under the stewardship of Pat Lam, Bristol rugby has rediscovered its identity and the club has been rebranded to the Bristol Bears, the Bears ambitions have reached new heights. Since his appointment ahead of the 2017/18 season Lam has guided Bristol to promotion from the Championship losing only one match and the club has a target to establish itself in the Premiership this season.
“Our players don’t talk about staying up or survival, what we talk about is where we want to be. History shows us that when we were worried about survival it didn’t work”
Pat Lam’s has a history of turning around struggling clubs, he coached Connacht from 2013 to 2017 and he guided the club to their first major trophy. Connacht rugby had struggled with mid-table mediocrity for years and the club never competed for silverware, Connacht acted as a development team for its Irish counterparts for many years and had its best players hovered up by other provinces. Lam completely transformed Connacht’s expectations on the field and his aim is to replicate this with Bristol.
Bristol Bears are looking to develop a culture that emphases community, enjoyment, family, leadership and teamwork. The club has clear focus on its long-term goals and a collective belief in what it can achieve.
“I believe vision drives leadership, leadership drives culture and culture drives performance”
“Our focus is on our vision to go forward.” said Lam.
Lam’s aim is to create a connection between the players and fans, a sense of community and collective culture. Bristol will looking to fill up Ashton Gate for every match and get support behind the club for the whole season.
“The burning ambition is to see 27,000 at Ashton Gate.” said owner Steve Lansdown.
“I want Bristolians to come through. Once you invest in community, the community gets behind you.” said Lam
Bristol have invested heavily in their squad with club making some notable signings, the Bears have signed –
Charles Piutau – the Auckland born Wing / Full back has earned 16 caps for the All Blacks winning all of his matches in the black jersey. Piutau has spent the last 3 seasons in the Northern Hemisphere playing for Wasps and Ulster, during his season with the Wasps he played a pivotal role in helping the club reach the Champions Cup semi-finals and was nominated as Premiership player of the year for that season.
He was awarded Pro 12 Player of the year and Ulster Player of the year during his two seasons with the Irish province, he scored 12 tries in 44 appearances for the club.
Steve Luatua – Luatua played Lock for the Auckland Blues from 2012 to 2017, he made 74 appearances for the franchise and he played 14 times for New Zealand. He started for the Blues against the British & Irish Lions and provided the game winning pass to Sonny Bill Williams as the Blues recorded a famous victory. He signed for the Bears in 2017 and has since played 12 games for the club.
John Afoa- the former All Blacks prop gained 36 caps for New Zealand and made 101 appearances for the Blues. He has played 58 matches for Ulster and 105 games for Gloucester. The 34-year-old will provide valuable leadership skills and experience to the Bears and will surely make a positive impact to the younger members of the squad.
George Smith- Smith has a distinguished career in the sport, he made his professional debut for the Brumbies in 2000 and began his international career in the same year. He has played 111 matches for Australia and is the second most capped flanker in history. Smith is the youngest player to reach 100 test matches and he has won a slew of individual awards including winning Australian Super Rugby player of the year 4 times in a row.
George Smith has played for a variety of clubs throughout his career including Toulon, Stade Francais, Lyon, Wasps, Queensland Reds and Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath. He has won silverware in Australia, France and Japan during his 18 seasons at the highest level. At 38 years of age Bristol will surely be his final destination.
The reasoning behind Bristol new logo and name was to create a sense of family and to develop the teams identity. “The owner was keen on the bears and what they represent around intelligence, strength, how they protect their own and the community. So every characteristic is what we’re trying to do as an organisation.” said Pat Lam
Bristol Bears seem to have the right plan in place to stay afloat this season, they have signed players who can make a positive impact to the team and the club are developing a sense of family and teamwork that is required for success. The Bears have hired a top class head coach in Pam Lam who has set ambitious goals for this season and in the long-term.
I believe Bristol Bears will stay in the Premiership this season and avoid relegation. The Premiership is full of clubs such as Bath and Gloucester who struggle to mid table every season, I can see Bristol surpassing them. It will be intriguing to see if Bristol Bears can reach its lofty ambitions of becoming a genuine force in Premiership rugby and Europe.
“So while people might laugh at us now, in 20 years time I want them to look back and think of Bristol Bears as firmly established in Europe.”