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What Bristol have made of ex-All Black John Afoa as a rookie coach

By Liam Heagney
Bristol's John Afoa. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Bristol have come in for much scrutiny following their slow start results-wise to the new Gallagher Premiership season, but one area Pat Lam isn’t finding fault with is the impact that John Afoa is making in his first campaign as a rookie scrum coach. The 2011 All Blacks World Cup winner hasn’t yet retired as a player – the 38-year-old recently returned off the bench at Newcastle following a calf injury and is available for selection this Saturday at London Irish.

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The 2021/22 season hasn’t all been about Afoa regaining his fitness, though, as it was decided last April that the New Zealander, who won 36 caps before heading to play club rugby in Europe in 2011, was confirmed as the scrum coach successor at Bristol to Alasdair Dickinson, a role he would take on alongside his playing commitments.

The Bears finished the last term on top of the Premiership only for them to get beaten in the semi-finals at home to Harlequins, and they have now started the new season sluggishly with just one win from five matches leaving them in twelfth place in the 13-team division.

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What happened when RugbyPass went behind the scenes at Pat Lam’s Bristol Bears
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What happened when RugbyPass went behind the scenes at Pat Lam’s Bristol Bears

Afoa, who signed a one-year extension as a player in March, hasn’t had to do much on the pitch, however. Injury has limited him to just 21 minutes in the games so far, but he has been busy on the training ground trying to ensure that the Bristol scrum is primed as much as it can be in his absence from the team. Lam has enjoyed what he has seen.

“He is a very experienced player, obviously,” said the coach to RugbyPass when asked how Afoa was faring his transition into coaching. “He is 38 now, he has achieved what a lot of people can only dream of achieving but it is not just that, it is him as a person.

“He has got unbelievable respect in this team, unbelievable knowledge, so he is an ideal coach in that sense. And he runs our mentor programme with Joe Joyce and Gethin Watts from the senior academy. He has got that heart to help people so it [coaching] is an easy transition for him.

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“What he is doing it on is a subject that he loves, the scrummaging. He has a lot of knowledge but it’s not just that, it is the way that he does his one-to-ones, his presentations, he is doing really well. He is going to be a phenomenal coach in my opinion.”

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