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Damning 'not what we trained, not what we planned' Bristol verdict

By Liam Heagney
Bristol's Ellis Genge reacts during the defeat to Saracens (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

It was quite an age after Karl Dickson’s full-time whistle consigned Bristol to a deflating 20-41 defeat to Saracens when Pat Lam finally managed to make it back up the steps to have his say about what went wrong.

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It was no surprise where the finger of blame was pointed. Just eight minutes into the match he was heard bellowing adjacent to the media box, “Stop kicking the f***ing ball away.”

At the time, Bristol were seven-up on the board and hungry for more scores but their director of rugby was furious with some of their play, a theme he continued post-game.

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Criminally, the Bears only ‘won’ the eight-minute second-half spell where they had a two-man advantage 7-3, Saracens’ penalty points the prompt for them to blazingly push on and transform a 29-20 lead into an unassailable 21-point cushion once it became a 15-versus-15 contest again.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Lam reported the reception from the fans on the 20,000-plus attendance who hung around afterwards to farewell the team at the end of their 2023/24 home match programme were supportive.

“Real positive. They were saying, ‘Thank you for the season, go next week, let’s give it all’. What I love is there are a lot of kids out there which is good. There were a lot of heroes there for them.”

Except not in the 80-match minutes. “When you are out there players will make decisions that afterwards they realise but for me, it wasn’t what we planned, it wasn’t what we trained,” bemoaned the frustrated coach.

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“There were a couple of good kicks we chased down, that’s a great kick because there’s no one down there. It’s when we kick and we kick straight to somebody there.

“They are the first guys to put their hand up and say they shouldn’t have kicked that because that is not what we trained, that is not what we planned but that is rugby and when we get those bits right, as a collective we are a lot stronger.

“We don’t play patterns, we play what’s on, we go if a ball is on. We don’t just say, ‘Well, if this guy runs it put it out the back’.

“He’s there to make the decision on the defence, play the D because you don’t know if the defender is going to shoot, hold, or take their space. That is how we spend a lot of our attack, about being eyes up, but we made too many errors.”

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Cue an interesting post-mortem on Monday before a line is drawn under a defeat that has wrecked their play-off aspirations.

They are not mathematically dead and buried but they are trailing in seventh and not only do they need to beat the sixth-place Harlequins at The Stoop next Saturday, but they also need fifth-place Exeter (at Leicester) and fourth-place Sale (at Saracens) to come a cropper.

Gallagher Premiership

P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Northampton
17
12
5
0
60
2
Saracens
17
11
6
0
56
3
Bath
17
10
7
0
55
4
Sale
17
11
6
0
52
5
Exeter Chiefs
17
10
7
0
50
6
Harlequins
17
9
8
0
50
7
Bristol
17
10
7
0
49
8
Leicester
17
8
9
0
40
9
Gloucester
17
4
13
0
27
10
Newcastle
17
0
17
0
5

Three results going their way so they can make it through… that’s miracle territory.

They won’t wave the white flag. “Stevie (Luatua) mentioned it, let’s channel all our frustration into a good week this week, get to London, and give it a good crack.”

That’s a crack unlikely to involve AJ MacGinty, who was left sprawled out on the ground with Bristol fluffing their attacking lines against the Saracens 13 and conceding a penalty kick down the other end when play finally stopped in the 57th minute. “He got concussed. It doesn’t look great,” admitted Lam.

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