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Bristol statement: The signing of Viliame Mata

By Liam Heagney
Viliame Mata in action with Fiji (Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Pat Lam’s Bristol have won the race to recruit Fiji No8 Viliame Mata for next season. The Pacific Islander is currently playing his eighth season with Edinburgh in the URC, but he is now a confirmed signing for the Gallager Premiership.

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A statement read: “Fijian back row sensation Viliame ‘Bill’ Mata will join Bristol Bears from Edinburgh ahead of the 2024/25 season. The 32-year-old, one of the game’s most exciting superstars, was a standout player at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, scoring against England in the quarter-final.

“Mata, who stands at 6ft 5ins and weighs in at 125kg, was nominated for EPCR player of the year and named Guinness PRO14 players’ player of the year in 2018/19 and won Olympic Gold with Fiji at Rio 2016.

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Sam Warburton on Leinster and Jacques Nienaber

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Sam Warburton on Leinster and Jacques Nienaber

“Big Bill has made more than 100 appearances for Edinburgh, becoming the first non-Scottish qualified player to become a club centurion.”

Bristol director of Rugby Lam, said: “Viliame is one of the most powerful and exciting back row players in the game, so we are delighted to be bolstering our forward pack with a player of his world-class calibre next season.

“While he is destructive and brings gain line on both sides of the ball, he also possesses the passing/offloading skills and experience that will add real value to our team.

“His performances as a centurion for Edinburgh and at the recent Rugby World Cup in France for Fiji showcased his experience and ability at the top level. We are pleased to be bringing him to the Bears and the Premiership next season.”

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Mata added: “I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Bristol Bears next season. I’m excited for the challenge of playing for a different team, in a different environment and a different league.”

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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