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What Hughes said when asked if his relationship has soured with Lam

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

It’s been one of the major stories of this year’s Gallagher Premiership season – what has gone wrong for Nathan Hughes at Pat Lam’s Bristol? The former England No8 lost his place in the early part of the campaign and is currently on loan at Bath amid rumours that he is set to potentially join Clermont in the Top 14 next season.

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Hughes was a big-money signing from Wasps in 2019 and his initial two seasons at Bristol were busy as the back-rower made 45 appearances – 44 as a starter. However, he has since paid a heavy price for underperformance at Wasps last September in a round two game where the Bears were mauled 8-44.  

There were just two more Premiership appearances this term, making it four in total for the season at Bristol, and it was after playing for Championship side Hartpury on a whim in mid-January that Bath got in touch. Hughes has since started six Premiership matches for them, beginning with a live TV man of the match effort versus Harlequins. 

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Nathan Hughes – A Fijian Ferrari, Bronco Tests and Playing for England | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 27
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Nathan Hughes – A Fijian Ferrari, Bronco Tests and Playing for England | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 27

With his future for next season still to be confirmed, Hughes has now revealed he hasn’t spoken with Lam since the lead-up to the February 25 Premiership win by Bristol over Wasps five weeks ago. Appearing as a guest on this week’s RugbyPass Offload, Hughes was asked if he was on the phone a lot with Lam. 

“Not, actually not,” he said. “I think the last time I spoke to him was before they played Wasps and it was basically ‘if there are any injuries we will call you back’, but nothing has been said or anything like that. All I am doing is basically leaving it and letting the rugby talk and just keep playing as much rugby as I can.”

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Has your relationship soured since when you weren’t being picked at the start of the season? “No. A lot of people have asked that but it’s nothing like that actually, there was no sourness there. It was just basically I had an off game against Wasps, the second game of the season.

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“He [Lam] said I will give the opportunity to this young kid, Fitz Harding, and in fairness to him, he played well. I said to Pat, ‘I know I have lost the spot, just keep playing the young kid. All I will do is just keep training for you and if I get the opportunity I will do a job’.”

Falling down the pecking order at Bristol initially left Hughes frustrated but having been in the Premiership since his 2013 switch to England from New Zealand, the Fijian-born forward quickly got over his disappointment. “You say frustrated, at the time I was but then I just got over it,” he shrugged. 

“I have been in the Premiership a long time and you see (new) players come along and you have just got to get on with it. At that time Fitz Harding got given the opportunity and he took it with two hands. He is still playing now and is playing really well. Fair play to the kid. He has played a lot of games and been outstanding for the season.”

Explaining his loan switch to Bath, Hughes added: “We had a bye-week coming up (in January) and some of the boys were going to play for Hartpury and I asked Pat if I could join Mitch Eadie and James Dun and he was okay because we had the week off after that. I played Friday night and then Hats [Neal Hatley] gives me a call asking if I wanted to come to Bath to play. 

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“I said this is just another opportunity to go and play rugby. They had a lot of injuries. When they played Leinster they had three head knocks in that game so they needed back rows. That all happened, been there two months and now it’s basically week on week if they need me or not. I’m enjoying it, enjoying the environment. The facilities are quite good there, the chefs are pretty good, it keeps me going there.”

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