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Bristol tidy up 'a few misconceptions' after Hughes' Bath debut

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

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Pat Lam has reflected on last week’s Gallager Premiership man of the match debut by Nathan Hughes, the out-of-favour No8 that Bristol loaned out to Bath after he initially play a Championship match last month for Hartpury College. Having been a mainstay of the Bears team during his first two years under Lam, the 30-year-old has dramatically fallen down the pecking order this season. 

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With game time at a premium due to the absence of a Premiership A-League, Bristol took the decision to send Hughes out on loan and his Hartpury debut resulted in Lam fielding calls from “four or five” clubs from the Premiership and from overseas looking to acquire the services of the ex-England back-rower.   

Bath, though, was the best fit for a short-term move as it doesn’t disrupt Hughes’ family life and Lam was delighted to see his player get his switch to The Rec started with an impressive effort in the win over Harlequins.

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“He is still a Bears player and I just want to tidy up a few misconceptions,” said Lam on Wednesday. “We have got 50-odd players here including the academy and we don’t have an A-League. When I pick the 23 there is a lot of guys who don’t play rugby. We have got a great relationship with Hartpury and the beauty of our relationship is that the boys can go once a week to that [Championship club training] and still come back and do all their training with us but they get game time. 

“Game time is the key. You end up going for a long period without games so that is why we have that relationship. While Nate was loaned out to Hartpury, he was still here and then once everyone saw that (he played for them) I had about four or five clubs all ringing me – from here and overseas as well – wanting to loan him.

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“Bath was the one that made the most sense because it allowed Nathan to still stay here with his family in Bristol, stay close to us if we are ready to call him back if we have any injuries. And also we need Bath to win just like ourselves to climb back up. It’s a win-win all round and Nate being able to get game time, I was pleased for him. He did a good job for Bath and it was great that Bath got a good win too.”

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While Hughes’ Bath debut was broadcast live on BT Sport, his Hartpury debut six days earlier was much lower profile so how did he do in that sole second-tier match he played before Stuart Hooper enquired about his availability? “Very good,” reported Lam. “A couple of coaches were out to watch Nate and he played very well. They ended up drawing with London Scottish. 

“Nate scored early, Mitch Eadie scored which was good. They were 14-0 up and he created a few opportunities. The team then struggled a bit and London Scottish came back. They were struggling to get little bits and pieces done and they were actually down 31-24 with a minute to play, but they had a scrum and Nate broke down the left to draw it in the last play, putting the winger away and they got the conversion so 31-all. He played very well for Hartpury.”

The reason why Hughes has fallen down the pecking order at Bristol has been the emergence of Fitz Harding, a university-route youngster who has hugely impressed Lam. “Nate was the first to admit he wasn’t in the best form at the beginning (of this season), but it is no different from all the guys here. 

“I said this from day one when I arrived, it’s about competition. Fitz has been phenomenal and his rise from last year and it’s more his commitment, he has become our best tackler. Why? He has put the work in. His work rate. You look at the stats, they are out of the roof on both sides of the ball. 

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“The metres he makes from carries, the number of carries he makes, 80 minutes – he got an opportunity and he has claimed that jersey. The issue then was how do we get Nathan game time and it is no different to other guys in the squad. Fitz is in great form at the moment and Nate getting topped up with quality time at Bath is great for him and great for us.”

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