'Admiration from a lot of the world-class guys': Why university recruit Harding fits the Bristol bill
Universities rugby is a level often overlooked as a pathway into the professional ranks in England but Bristol boss Pat Lam has explained what has excited him most this past year about the progress of Fitz Harding, the 22-year-old former student who has made eight appearances for the Gallagher Premiership leaders in their 15 league games since the start of 2021.
Shortlisted as the universities player of the year for 2020, Harding signed Bristol academy pro terms last July after catching the eye of Lam and co for Durham University. The back-rower made a Premiership debut last October off the bench against London Irish, but he has come into his own since the turn of the year, starting twice and adding to the competition for match day places in the Bears squad.
“He has done extremely well,” declared Lam about Harding, who quickly created a good impression with some of the more household names in the Bristol squad. “We saw him play BUCS and he has completed his degree and come in through the academy.
“Being a school teacher, the thing about a degree is it’s not the degree that someone chooses, it’s the commitment, time and sacrifice you put in to get that degree. With Fitz, you have got someone there who set himself the goal of getting a degree and putting the work in that you see come through in other areas of life. That is why I have got a lot of admiration for people who achieve those degrees.
“I don’t see one better than another because it always comes back to that person’s passion. What I see is the commitment to start something and finish something. The more people that you have in the organisation with that mentality the better the growth and the better chance of you achieving what you want to achieve.
"I rang a few Premiership clubs about finding AJ a spot. I spoke to about four or five of them…"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 25, 2021
“Finding someone like that in the BUCS programme, giving him an opportunity, he was buzzing when we brought him into the academy and in to train fully with the senior team. He is well-liked by the boys not only because he is a nice guy but he puts the work in and that is what players want to see. He has got a lot of admiration from a lot of the world-class guys, the senior players because he is very respectful but does the hard yards and the opportunity that he got he certainly earned. He is coming through nicely in his growth and development.”
Asked if that development might eventually end with England Test honours, Lam added: “They can all achieve their dreams if they want to work. It’s not rocket science. My job is to ensure the programme, the quality of the coaching, the quality of the staff is there, but what I’m looking for is committed players that will want to improve. If they do that they will reach their dreams whatever their dreams are.”
"I knew this is where I needed to be to grow as a player and a person"https://t.co/zjF6eAetT6
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 26, 2021
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