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New Munster signing suffers a season-ending injury at Bristol

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

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New Munster signing Antoine Frisch has played his last match for Bristol as an injury sustained in last Friday’s Gallagher Premiership win over Gloucester requires a season-ending operation. It was April 20 when the Irish province confirmed a three-year deal for the unheralded 25-year-old French midfielder, who arrived at the Bears for the 2021/22 season from Rouen in the Pro D2.

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However, while Frisch showed immense determination to drag himself up off the Ashton Gate turf and get himself back into the defensive line after shipping a shoulder injury on 29 minutes, he exited the game when the whistle blew for a stoppage and it has now been confirmed by Bristol that it was his last appearance for them.

“Antoine is going to need surgery so his season is done and his time with us is done with him moving on,” explained Bristol boss Pat Lam about Frisch at his midweek media briefing ahead of this weekend’s trip to league leaders Leicester. Munster need not fret, though, as the coach added that the injury isn’t long-term. “I’m not sure of the exact details but it won’t be long, it’s just a tidy up.”

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The decision by Munster to snap up the French centre raised eyebrows, but the offer of a three-year deal for a player who is Irish-qualified through his maternal grandmother hailing from Dublin trumped what Bristol had on the table as they looked to extend his original one-year deal at the club.

“We found him in Pro D2 really hungry for an opportunity and it is fair to say when he arrived there was a lot of work to do for him understanding the game defensively,” continued Lam about Frisch, an unknown talent that Bristol took a punt on. “There was no doubt that he had the attack. The attacking skills that he has got are excellent but twelve is quite a key position in our game.

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“You’re the second caller, you’re driving, it’s a big part of our game so there was a lot for him to learn and fair play, by the time he got to the second half of the season he showed what he can do. He has still got a lot of work but why I am pleased for him is he was Irish-qualified, English-qualified and French-qualified and the Irish union came in after our Saracens game (on March 26) with a very good deal.

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“We had a deal on the table for him but it was trumped by a three-year deal from the Irish union. The thing I like about Antoine is he is pretty driven in what he wants to achieve and he has been great here but ultimately we weren’t going to match what Ireland have offered. But I wouldn’t even stop him because he is going to Ireland to try and play international rugby which is his dream. Certainly from my time in Ireland I know he will enjoy it over there.

“What he is very thankful for is he was in Pro D2 and he realises that the way he has developed here and the opportunity he got has given him this chance. The Irish rugby union weren’t going to pick him from Pro D2.

“He is another of many examples who have come in, learned more about the game, improved his game, had the ability to train full-time in the HPC with some quality players, learned some great stuff from some very good players and got himself in the show window and can now carry on with his dream. His dream wasn’t to be a Bristol Bears player for all this life, his dream is to play international rugby and so we have been part of that journey to help him along there which is great.”

Last Friday was only a seventh Premiership start for Frisch in ten appearances in the English top-flight, so Lam doesn’t buy into the suggestion that the Frenchman’s exit somehow leaves them short of midfield cover. “Antoine was only part of our squad, he hasn’t started every game. He isn’t a starter for us, he is a guy in our squad that has come through and you need three or four in there.

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“Fans get excited by some flash play and stuff but that is not what is valued for us. Our value is understanding our game and doing the simple things really well on both sides of the ball, so we believe he still needed development to go on and his contract reflected that.

“It’s not like it’s someone who is the No1 player in that position. What I am pleased about is he entered our programme and no one knew who he was, so it is not like we have lost a No1 player and we’re struggling. We have helped the guy coming out of nowhere to prove himself and now he carries on his dream. Ireland have decided to take the next step on a couple of performances and it’s great for him. That is why he is so happy, he is excited and we carry on. Inside centres and other centres are already locked in.”

Bristol centre Frisch was the sole Frenchman playing in this season’s Premiership. Why is it in a league that attracts players from all around the world that the French don’t view England as a place to enhance their careers? “You have got a very good league on that side, why would you leave? They pay very well over there too so there is no reason to leave,” reckoned Lam.

“The one reason that Antione wanted to come from Pro D2 was he really wanted to experience a real professional environment full-on. He says he could have stayed in France and been comfortable but he really wanted to grow his game and improve and so he felt that was a great opportunity. Everyone is different.

“The Top 14 and the Pro D2 have got a lot more teams so I don’t see any reason why French players would leave except for the challenge. That is what Antoine decided, he wanted the challenge, he wanted to improve quickly. He is 25 now and he did that. He has learned a lot in a short amount of time and that same attitude will kick him on.”

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