Connacht head coach Pat Lam will be leaving the province at the end of the 2016/17 season to take over at Bristol.
The former Samoa captain, currently in his fourth season with the Irish side, will finish next summer to take up the head coaching role at Premiership side Bristol.
“Pat was the outstanding candidate in our search for a new head coach and impressed the board with his coaching ability, experience and enthusiasm for the task ahead. We’re very pleased to appoint an individual of his quality,” Bristol chairman Chris Booy said.
“The board has been patient in our approach to ensure we have the right man to take this club forward in the long term. Pat has transformed a Connacht team into PRO12 champions and we believe he can build a squad, a culture and an environment that can be successful in the Premiership.
“Mark Tainton and the existing coaching set-up will continue in their roles with the target of securing our Premiership survival. They have done an excellent job so far in instilling some real fight and positivity into the players and we are confident that Mark has the ability to keep Bristol in the top flight.”
On his decision to leave Connacht, Lam said: “This has been one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my life as Connacht and Galway is such a special place for myself and my family. The friendships, support and memories we all have experienced throughout our time in the West of Ireland is truly heartfelt and will never be forgotten.
“I feel extremely blessed to have been given an opportunity four years ago to build on the excellent work of Eric Elwood. I’m very proud that I can now pass on the baton with the knowledge that Connacht is truly seen as one of four strong provinces of Irish rugby.
“Rugby should never be about the individual as players and coaches will always come and go. We have worked hard to have the structures and systems in place to ensure the future success of the province for our community. I truly believe that through our strategic plan and the vision of Grassroots to Green Shirts, Connacht is in an extremely strong place going forward.
“There is a lot of rugby to be played between now and the end of the season and myself, our management team and the players are fully committed to our goals on and off the pitch. We are heading in to Champions Cup rugby this week on the back of so much hard work over the last number of years. We want to continue to inspire our community and we have many more opportunities on and off the field to do that this season.”
Connacht CEO Willie Ruane added: “Firstly I’d like to thank Pat for everything he has done for Connacht Rugby. He led the province to a first ever trophy and that will be something that will live long in the memory. While there is a lot of rugby yet to be played this season, we wish Pat, Steph and their family the very best in the next chapter of their lives.
“Connacht has made a huge amount of progress over the last number of years, with Pat building on the great work of those who went before him and we remain extremely confident and excited about the future.
“As a club, we will immediately engage with our Professional Games Board and the IRFU with respect to starting the process of recruiting our next head coach.”
— Bundee Aki (@bundeeaki12) 5 December 2016