How Pat Lam's Bristol Bears have lost their bite

Bristol have gone from reaching the play-offs last season to just THREE wins in 11 this campaign… how Pat Lam’s Bears have lost their bite ahead of Premiership clash with Sale

  • Bristol confirmed Pat Lam had signed a seven-year contract on the opening day 
  • His team lost to Saracens and things have not got much better since for Bristol
  • They haven’t been helped by injuries to Semi Radradra and Charles Piutau
  • Bristol are second from bottom going into their clash against Sale 

On the day the season kicked off, Bristol confirmed their director of rugby Pat Lam had signed a new seven-year contract.

It was an unprecedented move for players or coaches in rugby to sign such a lengthy deal.

Bristol were keen to tie Lam down given the fine work he had done at Ashton Gate since joining in 2017. But as soon as it was announced the Samoan was in for the long term, his team promptly lost their campaign opener to returning Saracens. Things have not improved much since then.

Pat Lam’s Bristol Bears have endured a tough campaign so far with just three wins

Lam has struggled to get his team back to the heights which propelled them to last term’s play-offs where they were beaten by eventual champions Harlequins.

Has his new deal proved a curse? Have the Bears become too comfortable under his guidance? There is a feeling his messaging has become too repetitive.

Whatever the reason, Bristol have won just three of 11 Premiership games so far this season. ‘You have these moments and this is what coaching is about,’ Lam said. ‘Everyone enjoys the highs, but the challenges and the opportunities you have from going through these times are massive.

Bristol would be rock bottom if it wasn’t for Bath’s abysmal start to the campaign

‘I’m enjoying it, I really am. I’ve been here many times. It’s about embracing the challenge. You shouldn’t be involved in coaching if you’re only interested in wins.

‘We’re at the halfway stage and the season ebbs and flows. We’ve had our bad moment early, but the plan is to put things right.

‘The grit and steel we’re getting from adversity will hold us in good stead. I don’t expect to see us anywhere near where we are now when we get to the end of the season.

‘We are who we are through the adversity we go through.’

Were it not for Bath’s abysmal, winless start to the campaign, Bristol would be rock bottom of the Premiership pile right now. This time last year, they were standard-bearers in first position.

Lam’s Bristol side run out for home matches to the soundtrack from The Greatest Showman, but this season the entertainment at Ashton Gate has fallen flat.

‘Our process hasn’t changed despite us being towards the bottom,’ said Lam, whose team host Sale on Friday night.

‘When you talk about style, I want to be clear we do what it takes to win. Everyone thinks we run everything because we’ve scored unbelievable tries and that’s what sits in people’s memory. But we’ll adjust to the team and conditions we’re playing.’

Lam hasn’t been helped by injuries to key players Semi Radradra (pictured) and Charles Piutau

Bristol’s last Premiership win — against fellow strugglers Worcester — was as long ago as November 6.

Lam hasn’t been helped by injuries to his two marquee backs Semi Radradra and Charles Piutau. Fiji superstar Radradra only made his first start of the season on Boxing Day after a knee injury.

The Bears scrum has struggled too, especially in home defeats by Northampton and Leicester and it is hard to escape the feeling that rivals have now worked them out.

When they were promoted in 2018, they shocked the division despite many predicting the side would struggle.

Lam does have plenty of credit in the bank — as well as last season’s Premiership play-off, he won the Challenge Cup in 2020 — but the league table never lies.

Bristol’s billionaire owner Stephen Lansdown will likely stay patient, especially with the Premiership ringfenced from relegation. Lansdown has already backed Lam in the transfer market.

Bristol Bears face Sale on Friday night as they look to turn around their struggling season

England prop and Bristolian Ellis Genge will join from Leicester for next season and so will Sale fly-half AJ MacGinty. Bristol voiced their displeasure at the Premiership’s salary cap being cut from £6.4million to £5m at the end of the campaign. The marquee player system will also be halved meaning each club can pay one player outside the cap rather than two.

‘You’re constantly looking at your squad. Bringing down the salary cap was always going to be a challenge because every player wants more,’ Lam said. ‘We believe you spend what you can afford.’

Sportsmail revealed the salary cap cut has left Premiership players fearing for their futures. Asked if it was inevitable players will have to accept wage reductions, Lam said: ‘It is for some. The ones who are English but maybe not England internationals are limited by the market that’s here.

‘The bottom line is the number is coming down and you work to get under it.’

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