“We’re all Bristolians”, All Black Luatua determined to keep Bristol’s identity despite heavy Kiwi influence.
Bristol Bears and former All Black backrow Steven Luatua remains adamant the Premiership returnees will not lose their local identity despite an influx of Southern Hemisphere talent.
After sitting through various team and individual photo shoots, of which inspired raucous laughter from the full squad that carried across the Ashton Gate turf and throughout the changing facilities, the 15-times-capped New Zealander insists that “at the end of the day we’re all Bristolians.”
“Obviously the team is trending that way,” Luatua admitted, “but at the end of the day, we’re all Bristolians. We want to go out there and play for Bristol.
“But don’t sleep on the English guys either, some of the guys we’ve got in our team are definitely coming through. I’m looking forward to that aspect of it.”
Luatua (left) leading the way during training alongside skills coach Bruce Reihana (right).
In addition to the deluge of New Zealand, Samoan and Tongan internationals at Ashton Gate in recent years, Bristol have also signed the seemingly ageless Australian centurion George Smith. Arriving on a short-term deal with the Bears, Smith returns to the Premiership after spending a year with Wasps two seasons ago, linking up with Luatua in a side not short of star power.
John Afoa (right) relishing new start in Bristol colours beside new teammate Tusi Pisi (left).
The newly branded Bears currently boast the likes of Luatua’s fellow All Blacks John Afoa and Charles Piutau, Irish international fly-half Ian Madigan and a host of additional Test stars that include, but is not limited to, Samoan Test quartet Jack Lam, Alapati Leiua, Tusi Pisi and Chris Vui; the latter of whom captained Samoa in 2017 to become the youngest captain in World Rugby.
Having grown up watching Smith, Luatua confessed to being an admirer of 111-times-capped Wallaby.
“It’s been great, I’m actually a fan so having him as a team member has definitely been great. If you were to pick a centurion team George Smith would be one of the best forwards; and Richie [McCaw], they can play six and seven.
“I’ve not told him but lets not. It might get awkward.
“Full credit to George, he’s kept himself in great condition. Seeing what he does on and off the field, particularly off the field, in the week for his preparation you can certainly see why he’s still trucking at a high level at 38.”
When pressed as to why he believes Bristol stand a greater chance of dodging a repeat of their 2016/17 season, in which the side suffered an immediate return to the Championship, Luatua expressed his belief in Head Coach Pat Lam’s structure and squad buy-in.
“I think with our systems and our game plan this year," Luatua said, "it’s in a place now where everyone understands it, everyone is on the same page.
“As far as I’m concerned, if you have a team that’s on the same page you’re going to come away with the result, and that’s exactly what we want. If guys know their roles and guys do their jobs and put in our systems, then we’re going to come away with the result.”
Bristol will host the first game of the inaugural Gallagher Premiership season at Ashton Gate on Friday the 31st of January against local rivals Bath, who make the short trip up the A4 to kick-off the season.
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