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'Salary cap now was could we get a dispensation on a dispensation'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

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Pat Lam has shed light on the madcap, behind the scenes drama that resulted in Bristol hurriedly bringing in three additional players this past week. Circumstances resulted in the Bears being short of cover at tighthead, scrum-half and full-back and it resulted in them securing the short-term services of Exeter prop Sam Nixon, Hartpury scrum-half Oscar Lennon and Bedford No15 Richard Lane.  

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The loan signing of Lennon was the most important as he has been immediately thrust into action, getting picked as the starting No9 to face Bath at The Rec in Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership derby. 

So affected have Bristol been in that particular half-back position with five players injured and another, the first-choice Harry Randall, away on Guinness Six Nations duty with England that it resulted in CEO Mark Tainton having to ask the Premiership salary cap manager a question that Lam imagines was never asked before – “Could Bristol get a dispensation on a dispensation?”

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Recognising last month they would be short of depth at scrum-half with Randall on England duty and Andy Uren and Tom Whiteley injured along with academy member JJ Williams, the latter unavailable for the rest of the season, a salary cap dispensation was granted to enable them to bring Gloucester’s Toby Venner on loan until the end of the season. Max Green was also recruited from Bath.

However, with Venner now needing an operation to mend the ACL he damaged during a second-half appearance against Worcester and with Green also temporarily unavailable with injury, it left Bristol CEO Tainton having to check with Premiership officials what could be done to solve the No9 crisis. 

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“Mark had to go to the salary cap manager and ask a question he has probably never had,” explained Bristol boss Lam at his weekly media briefing. “We had a dispensation on Tom Whiteley ruled out for the season, so we got Toby and the salary cap question now was could we get a dispensation on a dispensation which is probably unheard of and then going to get Oscar. 

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“At this stage of the season, every team has niggles and the thing for us is it hasn’t been a lot in the sense of previous years, it’s just all in the same position. I don’t think you can find any club anywhere that has lost six scrum-halves at the same time, so we brought in Oscar Lennon, who has played some A games for us and been in the Hartpury BUCS team and Hartpury.

“It’s all very well saying there might be a player available in Australia or South Africa or Argentina and there could be players around, but ultimately the challenge is how quickly we can get them in and Oscar was just up the road, has been involved in our programme a few times and has fitted in very well. 

“Overseas is always difficult because getting them into the country, do they have the criteria, the visa requirements? There are some players that I knew but you can’t get them into the UK in a short amount of time. We have Harry Randall coming back at the end of Six Nations God willing with no injuries, and then Andy Uren will be back around the Champions Cup time, so they are coming back and you are looking short-term to fill a gap. 

“If you’re talking overseas players realistically by the time you get all the paperwork and it does come through that is anything up to two weeks before they arrive in the country so that limits that. Then you are looking around the Premiership and because every club needs at least three available, you are looking at their fourth and fifth players.

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“Then you go down to the Championship and the teams that are competing there don’t want to let their number one or two (choices) go and that is why it is important to have very good relationships and John Barnes was superb at Hartpury.”

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