Much is made about how Pat Lam splashes the cash to recruit big at Bristol, Kyle Sinckler, Charles Piutau and Semi Radradra just some of their numerous billboard names of recent vintage recruited at Ashton Gate, but just as important at the Gallagher Premiership leaders is how they also cannily stock their roster with lesser-known players such as Bryan Byrne.

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The hooker from Leinster is typical of the punt Lam likes to take on unheralded players from elsewhere, operators whose talents are not that visible as they haven’t had an opportunity to consistently shine and really show their true worth.   

It was February last year when Byrne initially hopped across the Irish Sea to Bristol on a short-term loan. That quickly became a permanent deal and the 27-year-old hasn’t looked back since. He only ever started eight PRO14 games in a half-dozen seasons at Leinster where hookers are two a penny but in 13 months at Bristol, there have been 13 Premiership starts and another two in the Heineken Champions Cup. 

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Jack Nowell guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload with Simon Zebo and Jamie Roberts

He’s not the only Irish success at the club either, Niyi Adeolokun reviving a career that appeared finished when he was released by Connacht last May, and the prospecting is continuing, ex-Ireland U20 forward Tadgh McElroy arriving the other week at the Bears on a short-term trial and he is already registered for their Heineken Champions Cup squad.  

A former league-winning coach at Connacht, Lam has no qualms about scoping the Irish market to seek out a few hidden gems and the immense value of Byrne – a twin brother of recently capped Ireland prop Ed – is evident in how he has capably offset the recent unavailability of the established Bristol No2, Harry Thacker. 

“The thing about spending time in Ireland is there is a lot of quality rugby players there,” explained Lam. “Leinster reminded me of when I was coming through at Auckland, there is so much talent but you can’t fit everybody in – and I saw Bryan play a couple of times against Connacht. 

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“There was a lot of guys ahead of him so sometimes there are players that are perceived better and the others don’t get that opportunity. That is why during the whole thing at Connacht I used to talk about if your dream is to play for Ireland you need to be in that shop window. Player movement now is a lot more since (IRFU boss) David Nucifora has come in but at the time before then hardly anyone would move. They were quite happy to play at Leinster A and that.

“Now you find players who want the opportunity and are desperate for the opportunity and then you provide them with the programme. Bryan was looking for the chance to play and he came over on a trial, we did a short-term, he connected really well, he learned the game and he has developed physically and his whole game so we were happy to keep him on.

“The No1 traits that all of these guys have, the ones we have picked up from the Championship and from different places, is they have ambition. They want a chance, they want an opportunity. Then the next thing is finding they all have coachability because they have that ambition, they want to learn. 

“A lot of guys go ‘I have big dreams’ but they don’t want to do the work and they want to do it their way. All of these guys (Bristol bring in) have the same attributes and my role in this with the whole Bears high performance centre is about driving the staff because if you have got quality staff and the players are coachable, the magic happens and that is what we have seen. 

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“Everyone wants clarity. Even in your own roles as media guys you want to know exactly what the people employ you or what your boss wants and you want feedback so if you provide those things and everyone is clear, away we go.”

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