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The Ospreys and Wales loosehead expects a big reaction against Australia after the chastening loss to Georgia

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'People outside don't big him up much, he is not as flashy'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Pat Lam sure likes his marquee signings at Ashton Gate, the likes of ex-All Blacks duo Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua along with current England front-rowers Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler, but he also has a shrewd eye when it comes to tapping lesser-known talents and getting them to do just as effective a job. Jake Heenan is one such prime example at Bristol.

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It was at the Blues underage in Auckland where their paths first crossed more than a decade ago and they have been joined at the hip since then, Heenan accompanying Lam to Connacht in Ireland and then onto Bristol where this Saturday he will again lead the Bears into Premiership battle, this time away at Wasps.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the 30-year-old back-rower. Injuries have given the New Zealander his share of adversity over the years but he now has first dibs on the No7 shirt and will run with it while he can at the start of the 2022/23 season, all the while bringing his experience to the fore at a club he joined in 2018 a year after Lam first jumped across the Irish Sea.

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The director of rugby enjoys the reliability that comes with a player he has invested so much time with over the years. “Jake was the U20s captain when I was coming through and I picked him up when he was just out of school back in Auckland,” explained Lam about how he first came across the player he has now elevated to stand-in captain at Bristol with Luatua currently out injured.

“He showed leadership qualities as he led our Blues U18s back then and went on and got his 20s. When I got to Connacht I brought him along because I know him very well and because of his leadership skills. He was phenomenal for us at Connacht and was heading in the right trajectory until he got the injuries.

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“It was tough for him but it also strengthened him. He has always been about the team on and off the field and he is always a good ambassador for after rugby. He and Luke Morahan have opened up two cafes here and he has got a really good balance in his life, got a lovely wife from France. But the biggest thing is that whole personality of who he is and the leader that he is – he is a bit of an unsung hero.

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“People outside don’t probably big him up much but he gets the job done. He is not as flashy as some other players but what we have as a coaching team and players is we have absolute trust and faith that Jake will tick the boxes and do the right things. He is filling in for Steven and Joe Joyce has only got back as well and hasn’t been full-on for pre-season.

“Jake has so he is in the role and that is why it is great to have him in our team. He knows he is not going to play every game all season, there is competition but he is a team man and he works it through. At the moment he is doing a great job.”

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