‘Class is permanent’ – Pat Lam waxes lyrical about Bristol Bears superstar

David Skippers
Virimi Vakatawa Bristol Bears Premiership 2023 - Alamy.jpg

Bristol Bears outside centre Virimi Vakatawa.

Bristol Bears director of rugby Pat Lam hailed the performance returning France centre Virimi Vakatawa during their 21-13 triumph over Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park on Friday night.

Despite being rooted to the bottom of the Premiership table – after losing all eight their previous Premiership matches – the Falcons delivered a brave showing and were still in the contest at half-time when the Bears held a narrow 7-6 lead.

Moment of brilliance

However, Vakatawa showed his class when he scored a brilliant try in the latter stages of the match which helped the visitors to clinch their hard-fought victory.

After the game Lam was waxing lyrical about the Fijian-born star, who came out of retirement earlier this year to join Bristol.

Vakatawa was forced to call time on his career last September due to the discovery of a medical issue related to his heart. Rules in France prevented the 31-year-old from continuing to play for Racing 92 but he turned out for the Barbarians against Samoa in Brive in August.

The Baa-baas were being coached by Lam, who along with Bristol sought the advice of an expert panel of leading sports cardiologists and following an independent review, Vakatawa joined the Bears on a one-year contract after he was cleared to play in England.

“The saying is ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’, and he is a class player,” said Lam. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his head, I think he’s had a year off the game and I don’t think many rugby players would come back off that and come straight back into it.

“But he’s shown signs every game [that] he’s getting better and better and having last week off, he got more done.

“The trainers said he’s more comfortable with the guys, with the way that we play, and he was really, really good tonight.”

Bristol’s win was only their fourth one out of nine matches during the Premiership campaign and although they had to work hard to get the job done, Lam saw some positives in his side’s display.

“The number one thing we’ve done is grown as a group,” he said. “The resilience and the toughness the boys have got – at 7-6 that game could have gone either way and that’s exactly what we got two years ago.”

Newcastle are still searching for that elusive win but their director of rugby, Alex Codling, is not panicking and believes they will turn the corner soon.

Full of optimism

“We spoke all week about the breakdown opportunities and I thought the boys were fantastic and there are so many positives,” he said.

“I admire their courage, their tenacity, their relentlessness, their resilience. They never give up, even in the first half, to a man, they stood firm.

“The difficulty when you’re under pressure and not on a winning run is that the confidence is probably not quite as high as everyone else’s.

“I always want the boys to move the ball, [which] was a lot harder in the second half with the rain so I’m not going to criticise the players – we’ve just got to work harder on our basic skills because it does chop our momentum.

“It is tough to get back when you lose at this level [but] to a man, I thought the spirit was outstanding.”

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