Contract extensions for Manu duo at Bristol continue Samoan connection

Bristol Bears rugby coach and former Manu Samoa international Pat Lam said bringing in Samoan and Polynesian players wasn’t a conscious decision, but it is one that’s paying dividends.

Manu Samoa captain Chris Vui (25) and centre Alapati Leiua (30) recently signed contract extensions that will keep them at the English club until 2022 and 2021 respectively.

Manu props James and Jordan Lay, flanker Jack Lam, and first five Tusi Pisi also play for Bristol, as well as Tonga’s Sione Faletau and Siale Piutau, and former All Blacks John Afoa, club captain Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau.

Coach Pat Lam said the Vui and Leiua extensions are massive for the club.

“Chris has had a couple injuries but we’ve managed to sort that out now.”

“He’s a leader, with Samoa as well, and will be a massive part of the club moving forward.”

Lam said fostering a Polynesian contingent at the club wasn’t intentional, rather he targeted players he knew well on and off the field.

“They bring experience and rugby ability, and just happen to be Samoan.”

He said there is a really good balance in the team

“When I arrived only 50% of squad were English, now it’s 70 and next year it will be 75.”

But Lam said having those Samoan cultural values within the team certainly makes a difference.

“Rugby was made for Pacific Islanders, coming together as a team is about being a family.”

“Our culture is that it’s not just about you, it’s about the team.”

Lam said Bristol has been down in the doldrums for many years, but billionaire owner Steve Lansdown has made the club more stable since becoming majority shareholder in 2012.

“We are one of the fortunate clubs, our money is guaranteed.”

“He is passionate about all sports in Bristol, and wants to inspire the community through them.”

Bristol Bears are building a new state-of-the-art training facility which is set to open in 2020.

Lam said the club are developing a sustainable environment in which the team can compete for Premiership Rugby titles.

He led Bristol to victory in the second-tier Championship last year, and promotion to the Premiership for this season.

“Traditionally the team that comes up goes straight back down again,” he said.

“But we have vision of winning titles and competing in the European Champions Cup, with our players representing England.”

Bristol are currently 10th in the 12 team competition with 10 rounds remaining.

“But we are almost closer to fourth than last,” said Lam.

“Winning the Premiership is our focus, and we can still do that or make the top four.”

“We’re looking at the top, not the bottom.”

Last weekend Bristol had a 9-65 win over Russian club Enisei-STM in the second-tier European Challenge Cup.

The win all but confirms their first European knockout match in 12 years.

Lam has fielded young sides made up of entirely local players for the last three games in that competition, and has been pleased with the results.

“There’s a lot of young English talent coming through,” he said.

Bristol field more of their veteran players, including the Samoan contingent, for domestic games.

“The Premiership is our bread and butter.”

Bristol play the return game against Enisei-STM at home this weekend, before their domestic campaign resumes with a Premiership Rugby Cup game against Exeter the following week.

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