The Bears are Rising

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The Bristol Bears, formerly Bristol Rugby, have had a dream start to this season. With two wins and one loss, they are currently sat at second in the Gallagher Premiership, four points behind a Taqele Naiyaravoro led Northampton Saints. So, what’s changed for the Bears after being stuck in a relegation battle last season?

In the first game of the season, the Bears faced Bath, the big West Country Derby. 26,399 eager fans, a record attendance for a sporting event at Ashton Gate, produced a sensational atmosphere. And what a night it turned out to be. In January, Bristol announced the signing of England international number eight Nathan Hughes. Bath was his Premiership Rugby debut for the Bears, and it was quite a performance for the new man. He was involved in the build-up to Bristol’s first try, scoring one for himself and to top it off he helped set up another two. He made 102 metres from 20 carries and beat an astonishing 10 defenders. Another record as well as attendance was set against Bath: with 15 minutes remaining 18-year-old Ioan Lloyd replaced Charles Piutau. At 18 years and 196 days, he is the youngest Premiership player for Bristol in their history, and if that wasn’t enough, he bagged himself a picturesque try, making him the youngest try-scorer in the Premiership for Bristol. What a night it must have been for the youngster. The game ended 43-16 to the bears. That’s how you start a season.

In the second game of the season the Bears travelled to the Twickenham Stoop to face Harlequins. This game was disappointing in the aftermath of the West Country Derby. A close-fought battle between the two sides was dominated by the boots of the kickers with a total of ten successful kicks at the posts. After the Bears went ten points down, they rallied to score a try, bringing the match back to within five points. However, it wasn’t enough, and the Bears picked up their first loss of the season; 22-17.

The most recent game the Bears played was at home to Sale Sharks. Once again, the boot of Callum Sheedy dominated, with eleven points from three penalties and one conversion. The forwards were unstoppable, notably Chris Vui, the Samoan international, winning ten out of ten lineouts into the hands of the big men, After many strong defensive efforts, the Bears managed to limit Sale to ten points. Once again Ioan Lloyd was substituted on, and in the seventy-seventh minute, he scored yet another try. It was a clinical and professional finish and the reaction of the team; the bench and the fans demonstrated the appreciation for the 18-year-old’s talent. The game finished 16-10, but the Bears appeared a lot more dominant than the scoreboard suggests.

So, what changed?

As I mentioned Nathan Hughes was a new signing and alongside newcomer, David Attwood, seems to be having a real impact on the team. The quality of play from the Bears could largely be down to the experience of these two England internationals, but the youth coming through the academy has to be mentioned. Ioan Lloyd, Charlie Powell and Jack Bates have all played incredibly well for the Bears in their appearances as part of the integrated academy squad.

However, I can’t talk about the quality of the Bears without mentioning arguably one of the most underrated coaches in the world, Pat Lam. The whole team seems to love him, they listen to him in awe and everything he does seems to work. The cohesion he creates within the team, as well as the quality of signings he attracts has created a new level of team at Bristol.

So, what can we expect from the Bears in the upcoming season? Will they rise?

We’ll have to wait and see.