'It's not me that has ever forgotten about Luke Morahan': The still-thriving Australian who scored the first Bristol try of the Lam era
If ever there was an example to gauge the turnover in playing personnel that can happen at a club, a glance at the Bristol team that took the field in their first Championship match of the 2017/18 campaign – their first competitive outing with Pat Lam as their boss – provides a compelling insight as only the debut-making Luke Morahan and Steven Luatua, along with the inherited Dan Thomas, from that day one matchday 23 are still on the coach’s roster.
Let’s scratch the surface some more at the club that is heading to Sale on Friday night as the current Gallagher Premiership leaders and were crowned Challenge Cup champions last October with a smash-and-grab raid in France against Toulon. Of the 42 players listed on the Bristol website as senior squad members, just eleven were either players already at the club when Lam took charge or signings by the coach for that redemptive first season in the second-tier of English rugby.
Much is now made about Bristol and their current long-as-your-arm list of star names on the roster, totems such as England’s Kyle Sinckler, Fiji’s Semi Radradra and ex-All Black Charles Piutau who are fuelling their bid to become first-time Premiership champions next month.
Lam, though, has a special place in his heart for those players who have been with him every step of the way along the four-year Bears journey from a relegated club making up the numbers to an outfit that has become clinical and precise in everything it now attempts to do.
Ex-Wallaby winger Morahan, for instance, doesn’t attract the limelight in the same way as the prominent household names in the Bristol XV, but the three-time Australian international has lived and breathed the journey from the nether regions to leading the way on the English scene.
"I rang a few Premiership clubs about finding AJ a spot. I spoke to about four or five of them…"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 25, 2021
A try-scorer just six minutes into that first Bristol match under Lam, an unconvincing nine-point win home win over Hartpury in September 2017, the 31-year-old Morahan is still going strong and will have the No14 jersey on his back at the AJ Bell for this weekend’s round 20 Premiership fixture. His stats epitomise how you can get a tremendous bang for your buck with an overseas signing. In 81 appearances, there have been 76 starts and 37 tries, three of those scores arriving in his six most recent Premiership outings with Bristol consolidating their spot at the top of the table eight points ahead of defending champions Exeter.
It’s not all that often Lam gets to heap praise on what the Australian contributes, so often is he quizzed about the brighter star names in the Bristol squad, but he didn’t hold back at this week’s club media briefing when prompted by RugbyPass to share his thoughts on a player who continues to deliver in spades.
“I have spoken a lot about Luke Morahan over the four years he has been here,” insisted Lam. “He has been one of the guys who has been with me right from the very beginning and it’s not me that has ever forgotten about Luke Morahan – and most rugby players and coaches will respect the quality of Luke for the Bears. He has been consistent for us, he is a leader in our team, a big part of our team, so he has been very consistent with us for four years and we’re pleased to have him.
“It’s leadership, that’s what leadership does. He has been around, he has played at the highest level but the big one about the leadership, and this is what I value, he is one of a few of our players that is in his fourth season with me so he understands the Bears game, understands the culture, understands the leadership and that is why he is in our leadership group. That is why he applied for it, went through a process and has been on our leadership group because that is what he is, that is what he brings to the whole organisation.”
How treasured is this four-year contingent, Lam’s first pre-season signings such as Morahan, Luatua, Alapati Leiua and Chris Vui who were added to a club roster that already contained Sam Bedlow, John Hawkins, Joe Joyce, Siale Piutau, Callum Sheedy, Thomas and Andy Uren?
“They know they still have to perform but they are hungry to perform and that is the key thing because they drive a lot more from year one when I first arrived. Those guys, Luke and others, are key drivers of the group because they understand all of what needs to happen. They know how it all works so that is why they are a big part for us and that is why these guys play well.”
With universities rugby a level often overlooked as a pathway into the professional ranks in England, Fitz Harding is blazing a trail this term at Premiership leaders Bristol https://t.co/mAreJrCkvF
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 26, 2021
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