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'Whole organisation knows it': What Bristol won't accept in 21/22

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Pat Lam didn’t pull any punches when outlining to RugbyPass the bottom line that Bristol have for the new Gallagher Premiership season which opens this Friday at home to newly-promoted Saracens. The Bears blazed a trail last term to finish on top of the table and while there were no damning recriminations when beaten in a home semi-final, not making the final in the season ahead will be unacceptable. 

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Why so? When Lam arrived at the club from Connacht in 2017, he crafted a five-year plan for when they bounced back from the Championship at the end of 2017/18 and despite their shock Premiership semi-final loss to Harlequins after surrendering a 28-0 lead, making the final in 2020/21 wasn’t an achievement Bristol had targeted in their day one outlook.  

Club owner Steve Lansdown admitted as much when reflecting on Bristol’s unfortunate semi-final exit, stating: “We are on target if you look at what we set out to achieve. We were ahead of target and we have allowed ourselves to go back on target. That’s the disappointing side of it but if that is the biggest disappointment we are going to have maybe we shouldn’t be too upset about it.”

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What happened when RugbyPass went behind the scenes at Bristol Bears

The thing is, though, there is now no margin for error. Year four back in the Premiership is the season Lam and Bristol targeted way back at the start of his reign to secure a Twickenham final appearance. Lansdown has reminded fans of this ambition, adding “our target was always to be in the final this year and to look to win it – and that’s where we want to be”, so the pressure is now very much on to deliver. 

“This year, the fourth year in the plan, the final is what is down as the bottom line,” acknowledged Lam. “Top of the league means nothing, it’s about being in the final. That is our bottom line. Now those are bottom lines, it’s not our targets. It’s the minimum, so that is what he [Lansdown] is talking about. 

“We had the bottom line of fourth (in 2020/21) and we finished third in the end despite being top of the table, so that is what he meant because it is written in (the plan). Everyone knows it – the whole organisation knows it. Everyone knows that a third place is not a successful season for us this year.”

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Piecing out such an ambitious plan was something Lam insisted on doing when he first arrived in Bristol from Ireland. He could have played safe, downplayed the long-term bottom line for the club, but it wasn’t in the nature of the Samoan, a former Premiership title winner with Newcastle who also enjoyed European Cup success as Northampton skipper. 

“When I was asked to come I didn’t want to just arrive here to take the job and take the money as sometimes people think that is what I did,” he explained. “I had clarity in the vision and set a plan out for five years. What I put on that plan was expectation was the bottom line. So for the first year, it was to stay in the Premiership. I believe I could have written a five-year plan just to stay in the Premiership but that wasn’t the plan. 

“We finished ninth, which was the highest any club that has come up has done, but I was still annoyed because we were still five points off fourth place. A couple of games we blew were our own fault, we should have got into that playoff. Second-year was the top six and we hit third and I was annoyed. We should have won that semi-final (at Wasps), but we didn’t play well, and then last year was top four. We finished top of the table but again we blew a semi-final and again it was a great experience.”

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'Whole organisation knows it': What Bristol won't accept in 21/22

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