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Bristol bring in two Irish players, including a hooker whose 2017 signing by Saracens caused ructions with the IRFU

By Liam Heagney

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Gallagher Premiership leaders Bristol have bolstered their squad, boss Pat Lam using his Irish connections to bring in hooker Tadgh McElroy and scrum-half Stephen Kerins with immediate effect. Half-back Kerins has arrived on a month’s loan from Connacht, the club that Lam guided to PRO12 glory in 2016. He has made ten league and European appearances for the team now coached by Andy Friend, his last run coming off the bench last October versus Cardiff. 

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Lam’s more intriguing short-term Bristol recruit is McElroy, who has arrived on a four-week trial. A former Ireland U20s player, he created headlines when his decision to join Saracens rather than the Connacht academy resulted in Irish age-grade officials excluding him from the 2017 U20s World Cup that he was set to feature at in Georgia.

Lam said: “We’re light at hooker and scrum-half, so it’s good to bring these two guys in to bolster our depth over a busy period for the club. They have arrived at the Bears high performance centre and will integrate with the squad with immediate effect.”

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The Bristol boss has a good recent track record in faring well with recruits from Ireland. His team to face Wasps on Friday night includes hooker Bryan Byrne, a player who struggled to become a starter at Leinster, while one-time Ireland cap Niyi Adeolokun was released by Connacht last year. Both initially came to Bristol on short-term deals and have since become full-timers at the English club. 

New recruit McElroy had made the move back to Ireland after he exited Saracens in 2019 and his form for club side Clontarf had been promising until the All-Ireland League season was shut down in March 2020 and it hasn’t started back up since then.

Speaking to RugbyPass 13 months ago about how his career had panned out, McElroy said of his controversial switch to Saracens: “I wouldn’t change it because at the time for me it was the best decision for Tadgh McElroy to grow up, mature and become a better player. I matured as a player and as a person on and off the field and the best thing about it was I met some amazing people, met some boys I will be friends for life with.

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“I lived with Joel Kpoku for two years, great guy. They all were. Saracens are known for everyone being close together and it’s just a group of good people. There were no individuals I’d bad vibes with. It was different. I had to live away from home, cook for myself, but you adapt quickly. I liked it because it was a different challenge outside the field and I knew I’d to mature quick. I’d be cooking, cleaning for myself, doing my bills, little things like that.”   

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Bristol bring in two Irish players, including a hooker whose 2017 signing by Saracens caused ructions with the IRFU

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