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Fourteen current or ex-internationals set to star in sellout West Country derby

By Ian Cameron
Nathan Hughes and Jamie Roberts

A host of ex-international players and a number of current ones are set to star as Bristol Bears and Bath Rugby get their Gallagher Premiership respective seasons underway this Friday.


Former – and likely future – England internationals Zach Mercer, Nathan Hughes, Charlie Ewels, Freddie Burns and Dave Attwood will all be on show in front of a record sell-out crowd of 26,399 at Ashton Gate.

The star power doesn’t stop there.  Ex-All Blacks John Afoa, Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau all line out for Pat Lam’s Bristol Bears.

Welsh internationals Jamie Roberts (from the bench), Aled Brew and Rhys Priestland will also be togging out for Stuart Hooper’s charges as they look to kick on from their comeback win against Gloucester in the Premiership Cup last weekend.

Roberts returns after missing a chunk of pre-season in order to undertake Rugby World Cup media work with ITV.

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Former Wallaby flyer Luke Morahan is set to feature, while current Samoa internationals Alapati Leiua and Chris Vui jump right back in after returning from Rugby World Cup duty in Japan.


“We’ve got 94% availability and that’s down to the excellent planning and preparation from our medical and strength & conditioning team,” says Pat Lam. “It’s been a productive pre-season and now we have to ensure we capitalise on Friday and celebrate that hard work.”

England back-rower Nathan Hughes arrived from Wasps in the summer as the Bears seek to build on last season’s encouraging ninth-placed finish after winning promotion from the Greene King IPA Championship.

“We can’t let the occasion take over yourself,” 28-year-old Hughes told the official Bristol club website.


“You’ve got to prepare yourself mentally – it’s going to be a very big occasion for the club itself, in front of a big crowd.

“It’s important to start well. With the World Cup, it gives teams a chance to try and get that head start.

“For us, we’ve got big games. But I think if we can have a good start in this first block, we’ll put ourselves in a good position for the whole season.”

Bristol are hoping history repeats itself as the Bears laid the foundations for last season’s campaign by beating Bath in the opening round of fixtures at Ashton Gate.

“Everyone likes a derby game,” Hughes said.

“When I first signed for the club there was big talk about Bristol against Bath as the first game of the season, with Bristol winning.

“It’s exciting – it’s been a long pre-season and everyone has worked really hard for the start of a new campaign,” he said.

“Personally I’m looking forward to it, to go out there and start the season with a bang.

“We want to be pushing those big teams and we want to make Ashton Gate a fortress. When teams come to Ashton Gate, we want them to be fearful of us.”

Bath finished sixth last season to qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup.

But Todd Blackadder’s three-year reign came to an end in May, with Stuart Hooper succeeding the New Zealander as director of rugby.

“The group are hungry, committed and determined to bring success,” former Bath forward Hooper said at his pre-match press conference.

“I think throughout the whole year we just want to be growing.

“I am not ever satisfied with anything being left the same, we have got to develop it and grow it.

“The group of players we have got want to win things. They want to win things, they want to be in this game to win things.

“They don’t want to go into the competition thinking we are going to finish mid-table, they are going to go into it thinking we want to win it.

“I am not a huge believer in that word momentum, I think it is about the individual moments and delivering in those moments and if we do that we can get those performances and get the wins.”

Bristol Bears team

15. Charles Piutau; 14. Luke Morahan, 13. Piers O’Conor, 12. Will Hurrell, 11. Mat Protheroe; 10. Callum Sheedy, 9. Andy Uren; 1. Jake Woolmore, 2. Harry Thacker, 3. John Afoa, 4. Dave Attwood, 5. Joe Joyce, 6. Steven Luatua (c), 7. Dan Thomas, 8. Nathan Hughes.

Replacements: 16. Shaun Malton, 17. Yann Thomas, 18. Max Lahiff, 19. Chris Vui, 20. Jake Heenan, 21. Harry Randall, 22. Ioan Lloyd, 23. Alapati Leiua.

Unavailable: Jake Armstrong (thumb), Tom Lindsay (hamstring), Jordan Crane (back), Blake Boyland (ankle).

Bath Rugby team

15. Tom Homer; 14. Aled Brew; 13. Max Clark; 12. Max Wright; 11. Levi Davis; 10. Rhys Priestland; 9. Will Chudley; 1. Beno Obano; 2. Tom Dunn; 3. Christian Judge; 4. Josh McNally; 5. Charlie Ewels (c); 6. Mike Williams; 7. Tom Ellis; 8. Zach Mercer

Replacements: 16. Jack Walker; 17. Lewis Boyce; 18. Will Stuart; 19. Elliott Stooke; 20. Josh Bayliss; 21. Chris Cook; 22. Freddie Burns; 23. Jamie Roberts

– additional reporting PA


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