Pat Lam is a man who learns his lessons.
Last season Bristol Bears were ‘on the brink of an injury crisis’ on several occasions according to the club’s director of rugby and as a result, Lam has taken steps to ensure he has deeper coverage in the specialist positions of scrum-half and hooker ahead of the 2021/22o season by adding two players on trial.
Last month Australian hooker Joe Cotton and number nine Theo Strang arrived at the Gallagher Premiership club’s High Performance Centre from the NSW Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels respectively,
Lam explained: “Two and nine were the two main areas we were pretty vulnerable in last year.
“When everyone is fit and available we had Andy Uren and Harry Randall as our two main options at scrum-half but I really wanted to get some more cover.”
The Bears released Chris Cook this summer after a season of injuries after joining the club from Bath 14 months ago.
Lam continued : “We knew Tom Whiteley was coming [from Saracens], we signed him early, then even in the academy we have Blake Boyland and he had injuries and the gap between the academy and first-team was probably too far for him at that stage.
“We really wanted to close that gap so Tom Whitely has come in and Theo Stang – who we spoke to a couple of years ago because he is EQP – he is English qualified – and he has been floating around with the Rebels.
“He was keen to come here so we said we would give him a trial for six months and he could come up here and see how it goes and he jumped at that opportunity.”
While 24-year-old Strang was born in Australia, his fellow trialist Cotton has his roots in Bristol with his father having worn the club’s famous blue and white stripes.
Lam said: “He was born in Bristol, went down under at the age of 5 but I got notified that this young boy from the academy at Waratahs is just coming on the scene and wanted to look at coming to the UK and particularly Bristol because of the family connections and being born here.
“We had a look and offered him a trial because while it is a big punt for those guys it is also a big punt for us. It is hard to judge from just video footage but having had a chat with him and so far they have both fitted in really well.
“We will see how it goes but hopefully, it works out well for them and the club.”
While Bristol fell at the penultimate hurdle last season, dramatically losing 36-43 to Harlequins in the semi-final at Ashton Gate, their success at finishing top of the table has further propelled the club’s standout performers into the shop window for international coaches.
With the likes of Callum Sheedy and Harry Randall likely to miss significant spells during the season away with Wales and England respectively – as they did in 2020/21 – Lam is aware he must react to the challenges that brings as a club coach.
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He said: “People say where are you signings but we have got our core group but it is the gap between the first choice and replacements I needed to close with the nature of the game and injuries and when the more successful guys are away, if Callum Sheedy and Harry Randall are away on international duty, Andy Uren is pushing as well, you need to look at that next group coming through.
“While we have got some good boys coming through the academy there are still a few years in that gap [before they become ready to play in the first team] and I need to keep an eye on the here and now as well.
“I just felt at times last year at two and nine last year we were exposed and on the brink of a crisis – thankfully Andy Uren was durable and lasted through but we needed to close that gap.”