Former Blues and Connacht coach Pat Lam is excited for the next challenge of his coaching career in the Premiership with Bristol Bears.
Lam, who made a big impact in Ireland when coaching the Connacht side to a PRO12 competition win, switched to Bristol in English rugby, taking the side out of the Championship last season ready for the Premiership this season.
As the English season gets underway, Lam admitted that starting with the side in the Championship had been a help in ensuring standards were set for the side.
“I’m happy with where we are at the moment, because it was such an important part of the plan to have everyone – players, staff, coaches – all understanding the directions we’re heading and the sense of our vision: ‘inspiring our community through rugby success’,” he told bristolbearsrugby.com.
“I’ve always said, for me, rugby has to be more than a game – it’s who you are and what you do, because that drives you every day and that’s what we’re trying to do with the players.”
Lam said Bristol wanted to be a Champions Cup team, they wanted their qualified players to play for England and they wanted to develop Bristol players.
“So, because I talk to a player about it before he signs, there’s no confusion and nothing takes them by surprise when we say, ‘we’re going to go to a community visit here’. Or ‘we’re going to go and coach Bristol Bears women’, it’s not a problem.
“So, 12 months later, it’s in a really good place. I wasn’t exactly pleased, when I arrived, that we were in the Championship, but it was a huge blessing in disguise because that part of setting up the vision and getting everybody working in the same direction was more important than being in the Premiership last season, so I now feel we have a stronger foundation to build our vision on,” he said.
Lam appears to have struck a chord with locals with season tickets reaching record sales and more than 16,000 tickets sold for the club’s opening game against Bath on August 31.
The community response was encouraging because, he said, “When you’re in the field and in the heat of battle, and you’re winning and hanging on with a minute to go, or you’re losing, and you’ve got to get in – what drives you more is the fact you’re playing for something more than the game, I’m playing for my friends, my family, my neighbours, my community.
“In professional rugby, we all come from different places but if we connect them to our community, they understand what it is – and that’s what I love,” he said.
There was a passion and hunger in Bristol for the team to succeed and that fitted in with what they were trying to achieve.