Following the newly christened Gallagher Premiership fixture launch at the top of the BT Tower last Friday, Bristol Bears’ Chief Operating Officer Mark Tainton praised the mixture of youth and international stars within the newly promoted side’s squad ahead of their “fantastic” Premiership return.
“Fantastic isn’t it to be back in the Premiership?” Tainton said enthusiastically. “Last year was an opportunity for us to build and develop. Obviously, we’ve not been shy in saying we want to be a Premiership rugby team. We’re delighted to be back in the Premiership this year and we’ve got to be sure that we stay in the Premiership and kick on, year on year.
“The advantage we’ve had this year with no playoffs is that it’s allowed us to recruit a lot earlier than the club has been able to in the past. We feel we’ve got a really good blend of young players and seasoned internationals within the squad to lead us through the Premiership."
When asked whether there was any concern over the integration of a host of new star players, Tainton was keen to point out that no matter what, Bristol would be fielding their strongest team week in week out.
“We always put our best 15 out on the field. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 19-year-old Academy guy. If he’s the best on the day, I’m sure we’ll be confident to put him out there. Pat is not shy of giving youngsters the opportunity.”
The Bristol boss also praised the positive effect Test stars John Afoa, Charles Piutau and Ian Madigan, to name a few, were having on the Bristol squad around them.
“That quality can really develop the rest of the team,” Tainton explained. “They can see the kind of work they’ve put in to get where they are. So youngsters can see and say that if they want to be a John Afoa or Charles Piutau they know how many hours they are doing to develop their skills, which will benefit Bristol players in the long run.
“So, we’re excited,” Tainton continued. “I knew Charles [Piutau] when he was at Wasps. That season he was unbelievable. So, when I knew we had the opportunity to bring him to Bristol, I was very quick to get on the plane to Ireland and have a chat with him to try and get him across.
What changes have you made compared to your last Premiership crusade?
“One of the major differences is we have a coaching structure that worked with the players all last year with the style of rugby we want to play this year. That will put us one step ahead of where we were in the past. The last time we got promoted, we brought in a lot of players that had never been involved with the club and didn’t understand what they were doing.
“Also, some of the senior internationals we’ve brought in have allowed us to recruit a lot earlier. They’ve been there, they’ve done it, it’s not going to be a shock to them, playing in the Premiership. They are world-class players and that will give the other players a lot of confidence.
“But also, we’ve brought in some Championship players that we felt, when we played against them, were outstanding and caused us problems. So we’ve tried to get the cream of the Championship to come and play for Bristol in the Premiership. So they’re massively excited about it, they want to be starting for the first team. They are going to be seeing the fixtures and be thinking, ‘I want to be playing in that fixture and who wouldn’t?”
Cubs to watch
Tainton notes two academy stars currently developing in leaps and bounds and pushing for inclusion in the senior squad.
“There were two players that stood out for me last year,” he explained. “We have a young hooker called Will Capon who captained the England [U16] group, and a player called James Dunn, who actually played alongside his father, Andy Dunn [former Bristol captain]. Both of them showed fantastic maturity and ability to play rugby. Will was on the bench for a couple of our end of season Championship games and didn’t look out of place as a 17/18-year-old.
“Our Academy works very hard. Mike Hall and his coaches in the academy are developing players, trying to develop local talent.
“We need to bring these youngsters through and hopefully guide them through to be professional rugby players for Bristol Bear which I think a lot of our academy players now will do.”
Bristol’s opening fixture for their return to the top flight of rugby will be to host West Country rivals at Ashton Gate Stadium, in which the Bears are expecting an attendance of over 10,000. A marked improvement from previous years.
Bristol Bears season opening fixtures:
Round 1: Bath (H) - Friday 31st August, 7:45pm kick-off.
Round 2: Saracens (A) - Saturday 8th September, 3pm kick-off.
Round 3: Gloucester (A) - Friday 14th September, 7:45pm kick-off
Round 4: Harlequins (H) – Saturday 22nd September, 3pm kick-off
Round 5: Northampton Saints (H) – Saturday 29th September, 3pm kick-off