SIGNING New Zealand international Charlie Piutau from Ulster on a two-year deal from the start of the 2018/19 season is a clear indication of the power that having Pat Lam as their head coach is giving Bristol’s recruitment.
Bristol have clear ambitions under Lam of making a quick return to the Aviva Premiership, which should be eased now that the much- loathed play-offs have been removed, at least for the next couple of seasons.
Clubs in the Premiership are allowed to nominate two ‘marquee players’ in their squad, whose wages are excluded from the salary cap constraints.
Steven Luatua is the likely player in the present squad and will be joined by Piutau.
But the Indy understands that speculation in some quarters that Piutau could attract a £1 million per season salary are wide of the mark.
Bristol chairman Chris Booy told the Indy: ‘This is a landmark signing, that one of the best players in the world today wants to come and join us. It is a testament to Pat’s vision and ability to attract players.
‘It demonstrates clearly where we want to be as a club is realistic and that we will not be struggling when we return to the Premier- ship. We want to establish ourselves in England’s top flight and then take the European prize.’
This signing breaks new ground for Bristol now under Lam’s stewardship.
The Indy understands that there is no opt-out clause in Piutau’s contract with the club should they not gain promotion.
Clubs are not allowed to approach potential signings when the player is in the same Union, but Piutau at present comes under the IRFU, so we could be seeing more ‘imports’ while Lam continues his quest to develop local talent.
Lam’s inspiration was clearly on show when, along with some of his coaching team, he gave a presentation and then answered questions when supporters packed the Lansdown Restaurant at the Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The vision for the former Samoan international is simple – vision drives the leadership which in turn drives the culture. That culture drives performance which, in turn, creates the legacy. The vision is to inspire the community through rugby success.
After the coaches fielded some questions, Lam was finally asked by a ten-year old boy: ‘What happens if the vision doesn’t go as planned?’
Lam’s simple reply was: ‘You won’t see me here next year.’
He accepted that it was a worthy question and added: ‘It is really important that you chase your dreams. Just because it is a dream, it doesn’t mean that it will happen. There is a lot of work you have to do.
‘But the chances of it happening go up if you keep striving to get better. We have a vision that we can, but the vision has to keep going. If we get promoted, then we have to keep going to win the Premiership.
‘But that doesn’t mean we have nailed it. It is not about winning this or that trophy because when we have, it isn’t over. We have to have a vision to keep getting better so that everyone is inspired by the Bristol club.’
After pre-season friendlies against Premiership sides Harlequins and Bath, plus Guinness Pro12 champions Scarlets, Lam will be taking his Bristol squad to the Galway Sportsground next Saturday to face his former club Connacht, kick-off 3.00 pm.
Connacht had a closed training game at the Sports-ground on Friday against Munster, who finished at the top of last season’s Pro12 table. Connacht will play Wasps at the Ricoh Arena on Wednesday, kick-off 7.35 pm. After a lifetime of coaching experience in New Zealand, former All Black Kieran Keane has joined Connacht on a three-year deal as their head coach. A centre in his youth, he played six times for the All Blacks in 1979, and represented Canterbury for ten seasons.
Connacht will begin their Pro14 campaign at home to Glasgow Warriors, where he will lock horns with his former Chiefs boss, Dave Rennie, The former attack coach with the Chiefs in New Zealand, Keane – like his predecessor – admits he is a self-confessed dreamer. He added: ‘I dream about rugby, and I dream about it when I am awake and when I am asleep.
‘I have that mantle because I’m always trying to think ahead, to innovate. Innovation has always been part of my creed about playing the game, and sometimes when listening to me, you can get lost because I’m away with the fairies on it.’