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How Nathan Hughes has reacted to 'honest conversation' at Bristol

By Liam Heagney

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It’s been quite the struggle for Bristol at the start of this latest Gallagher Premiership campaign. They netted 13 try bonuses in 21 regular-season outings in 2020/21 but that strike rate has since dried up. Zero from five is their current try bonus ratio and some Bristol players have paid a heavy price – especially Nathan Hughes, the No8 who was one of Pat Lam’s big signings in 2019. 

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His place on the team sheet was never in doubt until this September. Bristol got annihilated at Wasps nearly five weeks ago and Hughes hasn’t started since, his only appearance coming off the bench at Harlequins on a night when he was only called into the matchday 23 due to a late failed fitness test for Steven Luatua.

Young Fitz Harding has suddenly jumped ahead in the selection pecking order and it has left Lam with an interesting challenge regarding his 30-year-old who was last capped by England in 2019 – how to get him back to his best at a time when the club is struggling for Premiership wins? 

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Ex-England skipper Chris Robshaw guests with Bristol’s Max Lahiff on RugbyPass Offload
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Ex-England skipper Chris Robshaw guests with Bristol’s Max Lahiff on RugbyPass Offload

“It was an honest conversation with Nathan and he has been fantastic,” explained Lam about what unfolded with Hughes on the back of last month’s 44-8 pummelling for Bristol at Wasps. “He led our A side the other day. It’s all about Nathan getting back to being at his best because we need him. But to be fair, Fitz Harding has come in and done an unbelievable job. It’s all about competition and Nathan has now got real competition there and that is what I want.

“Nathan was the first to say the only thing he can do is action, get back into it. But once you let someone back in there, the pressure is on. Fitz was superb two games in a row so Nathan has got to push him and that is what I want right through. We achieve a lot when people compete against each other. Nathan is working hard trying to get back and once he gets his opportunity, then I am sure we all want him to take it. It’s nothing about the attitude, it’s just about performance. Everything is around your performance.

“I don’t mix relationships and performance. Relationships are really important to me, with all the players and the staff, but ultimately we have all – myself included – got to perform. If there is someone else that is performing better they get the opportunity.” Did the initial conversation catch Hughes by surprise? “No surprise because it is the same conversation I have with every player. Every game I have conversations with every player about their performance. We have a system where the boys come through and we talk through so I catch up with all of them. So no surprise at all, it’s exactly the same.

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“The boys are great because it is transparency, there is consistency and there is honesty and all of the players are exactly the same because they all go through that process and regardless of who you are and where you sit in the team, you go through that process and that is what the boys respect and the boys play a big part of that. 

“They do a lot of the talking. I ask the questions and that is the key. The greatest tool is self-awareness so Nathan was the first to admit to me that it [Wasps away] wasn’t his best performance but the key then is we put together a plan on how we get that (improved) and that is not just Nathan, it is all the guys as they go through.”

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How Nathan Hughes has reacted to 'honest conversation' at Bristol

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