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Pat Lam has hit back over the alleged lack of fitness at Bristol

By Liam Heagney

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Bristol boss Pat Lam has dismissed accusations that his struggling Premiership team are suffering from a fitness issue in the early stages of the 2021/22 season. The Bears, who last season finished on top of the regulation season table, have lost three of the opening four matches this term, a lack of form that has left them drifting in twelfth place just one point ahead of bottom club Bath.  

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Especially wounding has been their lack of second-half scoring. While they managed 17 second-half points to come from behind to defeat Bath on October 1, they have failed to score after the interval in the three games that they have lost. 

Half-time scores of 9-9, 8-16 and 24-7 became 9-26, 8-44 and 24-52 losses to Saracens, Wasps and Harlequins respectively in recent weeks, a second-half aggregate of 0-90 in those three defeats, and it has prompted speculation over their fitness. Ex-England out-half Andy Goode, for instance, this week told listeners of The Rugby Pod: “I’ll be honest about Bristol, they are absolutely f***ed fitness-wise. They didn’t play any pre-season games, they flew out of the blocks and then shot their bolt.”

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Louis Rees-Zammit as you have never seen him before
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Louis Rees-Zammit as you have never seen him before

The brickbats go against the grain of the pre-season message that emerged from Bristol before a ball was kicked, Kevin Geary, the club’s head of athletic performance, reporting that everyone was beating personal bests for times and lifts. Now coach Lam has weighed in on the debate, insisting before Saturday’s away clash at Newcastle that the speculation about an alleged lack of fitness in his Bristol squad is wide of the mark. “No concerns physical fitness. No. No,” he insisted at this week’s media briefing ahead of the long trip north. 

Lam used an example of the action from last week’s defeat at Harlequins as a sign that his Bristol team are giving everything. “Nothing changes in the sense of the process,” he said when asked if three losses in four games were cause for concern. “It is always honest and that is how we learn. It is business as usual. Take away emotion. Take away all the surrounding noise and what was pleasing for me, the difference between this (Harlequins) loss and the Wasps loss was the amount of effort was still there.

“If you look at some of the linebreaks and the scramble, we had one scrum and a couple of guys made a mistake on their reads and they broke all the way down the side in the first half and you look at the whole forward pack after doing the scrum all busting their legs to get back. They worked and they got the ball back… You don’t need honest conversations when you follow a process. The boys hurt, they each put their hands up and get back to work on it. Same with us coaches. Everybody. It’s how we can get better and we focus on those areas.” 

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Bristol have been missing the powerhouse Semi Radradra, who will be sidelined for four months due to knee surgery this month. Lam said a fortnight ago he would be looking for short-term cover but he was brusque when asked for an update on recruitment. “You always ask about recruitment and it’s the same as I have said to you for five years. That is my job. I’ll let you know when we have signed someone or if there is any news.”

The Bears have also defensively been exposed out wide this term and they now face the prospect of shackling Newcastle sensation Adam Radwan, the Premiership player of the month for September. “He’s fast,” admitted Lam. “When we first saw him in the Prem and Newcastle were going down, in our last game of that season I thought he was electric. I remember saying to the coaching team, ‘Keep an eye on this guy’. Now he is in the England squad, a quality player.”

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Pat Lam has hit back over the alleged lack of fitness at Bristol

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