Pat Lam has given a vote of confidence to young Harry Randall, claiming that the 23-year-old Bristol scrum-half – who is eligible for both England and Wales – can go all the way and become an international level regular.
It was in the Championship, during Bristol’s one-season stay at the start of the Lam era, when the coach first clapped eyes on the half-back. Attached to Gloucester at the time, Randall faced Bristol twice when playing for second-tier feeder club Hartpury College.
Lam was smitten. Come Bristol’s return to the Premiership, he made a successful play to get Randall on board and the relationship has gone from strength to strength, the No9 even scoring the fastest European try in history when he touched down after just 15 seconds against Toulon in the October final of the 2019/20 Challenge Cup final.
Bristol now head to reigning champions Exeter on Saturday for a top of the table Gallagher Premiership clash that will provide Randall – who tips the scales at 79kgs – with his 64th appearance after he was included in a selection looking to build on the New Year’s Day home win over Newcastle.
“I’m absolutely pleased with Harry,” enthused Lam heading into the meeting of two teams who have won four out of five matches are and level on 20 points apiece. “When he played for Hartpury against us in the Championship I said straight away who is this kid?
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“We did a bit of homework and were really keen to get him here. I loved the way that he played. A couple of things when he got here: we realised that while he is an unbelievable student of the game and tempo and all that, fitness needed to improve, key skills needed to improve.
“The lockdown, we got everyone to do certain skills. I have video footage of him box kicking and the quality of the kicking that he did. He was given certain drills. He had his partner and people videoing it and he sent it in for us to debrief and give him feedback.
“He’s reaping the rewards of the work that he has put in. He has naturally been a good rugby player, understands the game well, but he has put a massive effort in growing his game. But also his understanding of the Bears way and how we wanted him to play.
“When to bring tempo, when to slow it down, how his running lines link with the strike power that is around him, where is the best place to be to be in support. We have seen him score a few tries or set up a few. He just takes a lot of stuff on board, but he has a great feel for the game.
“Pound for pound he is one of the best tacklers I have seen. You will struggle to see him miss tackles and you see him do double, triple efforts. If you have a look at the Connacht game, in the corner they were hammering us and their second-rower (Eoghan) Masterson was carrying for the line.
“Him [Randall], Callum Sheedy and Ioan Lloyd, three of the smallest guys in our team, and all you see is the second-rower go up, driven back and loses the ball. It gets stripped by Callum Sheedy but when you look closely it’s Harry Randell who has picked him up and is driving him back.
“So he’s a tough bugger and I believe without a doubt he has got a huge future in the game and certainly will one day grace the international stage.”
Sheedy, Randall’s half-back partner, was one player who recently put to bed the speculation about which country he might play for at Test level, the out-half getting capped in the Autumn Nations Cup by Wales having turned out for England in their 2019 non-cap international versus the Barbarians at Twickenham.
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Born in England to English parents, Randall has Welsh connections but Lam isn’t hung up on which allegiance his player might eventually adopt. He just wants Randall, a 2016 Junior World Cup winner with England at U20s, to keep developing with Bristol to ensure he is ready to make the step-up when a call eventually comes.
“We have had a few of the boys that have dual nationality but one of the things I was talking to them about is they don’t have to make a decision, it’s up to the coaches of those teams to make the decision. Those guys have been blessed that they have connections like a lot of players in the world do just the way the world is.
“Whether you are a Polynesian growing up in the UK or whether you have an Irish father, a Welsh mother, it’s just the way the world is, but ultimately those decisions are more made by the selectors, the coaches of those teams.
“We saw that with Callum. Wayne (Pivac) was keen for Callum to be involved. He spoke to him and Callum jumped at the opportunity. All those guys I always say to them you have got to be selectable and what that means is play well for your club, keep growing.
“I always put a caveat when I say these guys have the ability to play at the next level – as long as they keep growing and improving. The moment they stop they become average again.”
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