Samoa captain Chris Vui has helped Bristol Bears defy the doom mongers with a high risk attacking game plan that could earn a top six finish in the Gallagher Premiership.
Having been promoted to the top flight this season, Bristol were supposed to adopt the usual position for new boys at the bottom of the league and attempt to dig themselves out of trouble with a combination of pragmatic forward play and points from the boot.
Instead, Bristol head coach Pat Lam and his players have stuck religiously to the policy of letting the players attack from whatever distance they want and while it has led to periods of self-inflicted problems, the West Country outfit have been great to watch. Bristol head into tomorrow night’s final home game with Sale having recorded the club’s first “double” over Leicester and that win featured the kind of risk taking that has the Ashton Gate faithful turning up in impressive numbers.
Second row Vui said: “The boys have huge confidence in how we play and there isn’t any fear about running that ball out. But it isn’t as if we are pulling that kind of rugby out of nowhere because we train like that even though to other people it may appear quite drastic or ballsy. We back each other and our skills to play this way and for the new guys coming in next season there is huge amount of detail to learn about our plays.
“Last year in the Championship we had a good core of boys and with Pat’s great leadership and the culture that was created we continued the belief into this season. Right throughout the squad there is real confidence about what we can achieve.”
Central to what Bristol have achieved this season has been Lam, who this week announced that 11 players would be leaving the club, including his cousin Jack and Wallaby great George Smith with England No8 Nathan Hughes arriving from Wasps along with Bath lock Dave Attwood. With the Bears strong Islander community losing four families this could be a difficult time, but Vui dismisses that suggestion and points to Lam’s ability to create a special culture to back up his view.
Vui said: “Being honest is a great trait to have and Pat believes in a culture of the family and you don’t lie to your family members. He talks straight and you have to take it on the chin and not whinge about it.
“There is always feed back from Pat if there is something wrong or you have a bad game. His door is always open for you to have a chat with him about anything and for the young boys that is really important because they want to make those international squads.
“There will be guys leaving and others arriving at the end of the season and it is a sad time when boys and their families leave.
“From day one we had the attitude that you are on the bus or you are not and right until the last match of the season all the boys will have the same attitude that we are going to keep working right to the very end. If we can get the two wins then it may be a top six finish and that would be a great way to round things off.”
Vui had groin surgery earlier in the season and is now operating at the top of his game, delivering 20 tackles and winning six line outs against Leicester last weekend.
“I have always had confidence and it was a case of somebody giving me an opportunity to play on the World stage and the Premiership was always the goal. Last year it was a bit of a sacrifice down in the Championship. I had surgery on my groin and now I am really happy with the way things are going.”
The 26-year-old lock forward has two more games with Bristol and he will then assume the leadership of Samoa for their 2019 World Cup campaign in Japan where they are in the same pool as Ireland, Scotland, Japan and Russia.
Lam won 10 of his 34 Samoa caps at World Cups and Vui is hoping to replicate the feel-good-factor the head coach has created at Bristol when he meets up with his international team mates.
Vui, who has 12 caps, was the youngest captain in World rugby when he was handed the leadership of Samoa in 2017 and his experience in the Premiership with first Worcester and now Bristol will give him crucial reference points when he leads his country in Japan.
Samoa have always made an impression at the World Cup but recent years have seen the team make headlines revolving around financial problems afflicting their Union rather than on the pitch. They needed a play-off to qualify for Japan, beating Germany easily over home and away legs and trail behind fellow Islanders Fiji and Tonga in the upset betting in Japan.
However, the presence of so many Samoa test players in Europe gives Vui hope that his country can knock over higher ranked teams in the sport’s show piece event. Hosts Japan are 11 th in the ranking, six places above Samoa who will be confident of proving their pedigree against the 20th ranked Russians and then hope to be supremely competitive when facing Ireland (3rd) and Scotland ( 7th). Vui added: “Samoa always do well in knock-out rugby and the boys will have to come together quickly and deal with the warm up games before the World Cup. We can take confidence from being involved in European rugby and take that into our game plan.”
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