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'It's a little bit of science, a little bit of art': Why Bristol have never picked the same 23 week to week in the four-year Pat Lam era

By Liam Heagney

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Powerhouse building Pat Lam has explained the reasons why he has never picked the same Bristol matchday 23 from one week to the next during his four seasons with the Bears. The coach constantly likes to change things up and this week is no different with the Gallagher Premiership league leaders due at Newcastle on Saturday.

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Bristol were beaten in the Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 in their last outing on April 4 and they now return to competitive action in the English top-flight showing nine changes to their starting XV along with four fresh additions to their Kingston Park bench after Lam unveiled his latest pick.   

Making alterations to better his Bristol team sounded like something Lam prides himself on when he addressed the issue during his weekly media conference ahead of the resumption to a Premiership campaign where they lead the league by a dozen points with seven rounds of matches remaining.    

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“Certainly in the Premiership and the season that we have, it would be a lot different if we only had three of four games and that is it, but you are balancing so many things,” explained Lam. “Injury is one of them, niggles, but you also want to make sure that as you get to know certain guys as well you want to make sure that the competition (for places) is right.

“You want to get to the point where I don’t like anything in the whole club on and off the field to be reliant on any individual and it is that whole balance as you are going through. There have been times when I have wanted to (pick the same 23) but there has been a niggle or there has been an injury.

“There is no doubt that (injury) is part of it but generally you are building everybody towards that stage where we have come a long way in four years. Earlier on, I had to pick certain guys because that is what I have got whereas now every time I go into selection I like to go, ‘Okay, we will look at which one this week’ because you want to make sure that the performance levels are high.

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I believe no one can play well in ten games week after week, you can’t do it. It’s just science and the mental science as well, so you have got to make sure that balance is right – it’s a little bit of science, a little bit of art.”

For the trip to Newcastle, Lam has brought Max Malins, Piers O’Conor, Siale Piutau, Niyi Adeolokun, Will Capon, Kyle Sinckler, Fitz Harding, Ben Earl and Jake Heenan into his starting XV in place of Charles Piutau, Semi Radradra, Alapati Leiua, Henry Purdy, Bryan Byrne, John Afoa, Dave Attwood, Dan Thomas and Nathan Hughes. The quartet promoted to the bench who were not involved in Bordeaux are George Kloska, Jake Woolmore, Tom Kessell and Ioan Lloyd. 

BRISTOL (vs Newcastle, Saturday): 15. Max Malins; 14. Luke Morahan, 13. Piers O’Conor, 12. Siale Piutau (co-capt), 11. Niyi Adeolokun; 10. Callum Sheedy, 9. Andy Uren; 1. Yann Thomas, 2. Will Capon, 3. John Afoa, 4. Chris Vui, 5. Joe Joyce, 6. Fitz Harding, 7. Ben Earl, 8. Jake Heenan (co-capt). Reps: 16. George Kloska, 17. Jake Woolmore, 18. Max Lahiff, 19. Ed Holmes, 20. Dan Thomas, 21. Tom Kessell, 22. Ioan Lloyd, 23. Alapati Leiua.

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'It's a little bit of science, a little bit of art': Why Bristol have never picked the same 23 week to week in the four-year Pat Lam era

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