Bristol Bears have been forced into an 11th-hour selection reshuffle for Friday night’s Challenge Cup final as skipper Steven Luatua has stayed in England and not travelled to France for the decider against Toulon at Aix-en-Provence.
The New Zealander is awaiting the birth of his child back in Bristol and although there was a contingency plan organised to fly the All Black out on Friday morning, it was decided with his partner Olivia still in labour that Luatua would remain at home with the full support of the club.
Director of rugby Pat Lam said on the club website: “Steven was desperate to play and be with his teammates so we made sure we gave him every opportunity to get here because he is such an important leader for our team.
“But family always comes first and Steven and Olivia have everybody’s full support at the Bears. When we spoke this morning (Friday), I told him to focus on the arrival of his trophy and we will try and bring back a trophy for Bristol this evening.”
Joe Joyce will now start in the second row, while Chris Vui switches to blindside flanker. Ed Holmes comes onto the bench and Siale Piutau takes on the captaincy.
"Southmead doesn’t get much good press but if I can inspire two, three kids to try to be a rugby player then that's good enough for me."
@BristolBears Joe Joyce is relishing taking on French aristocrats Toulon to make his hometown proud
— The XV (@TheXV) October 15, 2020
Bristol, who are looking to win their first major silverware since 1983, are hoping to bounce back from last Saturday’s Premiership semi-final loss to Wasps in Coventry.
BRISTOL (vs Toulon, 8pm): 15. Max Malins; 14. Luke Morahan, 13. Semi Radradra, 12. Siale Piutau (c), 11. Alapati Leiua; 10. Callum Sheedy, 9. Harry Randall; 1. Yann Thomas, 2. Harry Thacker, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Dave Attwood, 5. Joe Joyce, 6. Chris Vui, 7. Dan Thomas, 8. Ben Earl. Reps: 16. George Kloska, 17. Jake Woolmore, 18. John Afoa, 19. Joe Joyce, 20. Jake Heenan, 21. Tom Kessell, 22. Piers O’Conor, 23. Niyi Adeolokun.
You're not able to be here, so we brought your support to France with us ?
Thank you to all supporters who have sent in cards and messages, it is hugely appreciated by everyone ? ? pic.twitter.com/HS5k6lzgMv
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) October 16, 2020
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