Sitting at the top of the Premiership table, at this early stage in the season admittedly, are Bristol Bears. Fresh off the back of a full rebrand and backed by one of the league’s richest owners, Steve Lansdown, Bristol’s route to their current position has not been smooth, but they have now emerged as a new threat to the Premiership’s elite.
Since 2010 Bristol have yo-yoed between the Premiership and Championship, but guided by their astute Director of Rugby Pat Lam, look set to finally establish themselves as a top tier force. The potential is certainly their, latent though it may have been for the last few decades. The city itself is an attractive destination for players, it has a rich rugby history as one of England’s traditional heartlands and, now, at last, the players to justify that reputation.
Whilst Nathan Hughes was jettisoned by Jones ahead of the World Cup, his presence has been felt thus far, as has Charles Piutau’s, the ex-All Black who is surely amongst Europe’s most powerful and dynamic outside backs. That another who falls into that same category, Semi Radradra, one of the World Cup’s standout talents, has agreed to join the club, is an ominous sign.
Meanwhile, with Ellis Genge entering the last year of his contract, rumours are circulating that he too may be interested in joining his hometown club. The same is also true of Justin Tipuric and Kyle Sinckler, although at present, these remain just rumours.
“Every top club in both codes across the planet wanted to sign Semi Radradra,” Lam stated earlier this week, “so for Bristol to be able to bring in a player of his quality shows the fantastic work that the club is doing. As a person and a player, he is perfect for our culture which places an emphasis on community and high performance.”
However, with Piutau already on a £1m a year contract that is set to be renewed, Bristol have had to face questions regarding the salary cap (so salient an issue at the moment) this week.
In a comment that good be interpreted as a dig at Saracens, Lam dismissed any allegations of financial sleight of hand as practically impossible, saying,
“I’ve brought the same contracting and recruitment model as I had at Connacht. It’s really clear – if I put an offer in here, a number changes somewhere else. There’s no way you can go over. I go nowhere near that line. We’re way below it, that’s the exciting thing about it.”
Either way, Bristol are assembling a young, powerful and positive team that look well placed to challenge even the very best over the coming years.