Anthony Watson suffers fresh injury setback

England and Bath back three player Anthony Watson is facing an extended spell on the sidelines after re-tearing an Achilles tendon in pre-season.

The 24-year-old initially sustained the injury during England’s Six Nations defeat to Ireland in March, where it was suggested he would be out of action for six months.

However, Watson has suffered a significant setback with Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder admitting that it is a “start again injury.”

As a result, a timeframe on his return is unclear, but the 33-times capped international may miss the rest of the year, making him unavailable for the Red Rose’s November series.

"The initial surgery did not quite take, and he has re-torn it," said Blackadder. "It is a start again injury, so we honestly don't know what the timeline is.

"It could come down to weeks or months, but it could be later in the season, we just don't know."

Alasdair Dickinson calls it a day

Edinburgh centurion and Scotland international prop, Alasdair Dickinson, announced his retirement from all forms of professional rugby on Tuesday.

Dickinson, 34, signed for Edinburgh in 2004 after turning out for local side Heriot’s and went onto make 120 appearances for the club during two spells in the capital.

An astute scrummager and ferocious ball carrier, Dickinson will be remembered fondly for his unyielding commitment to the Edinburgh jersey.

The 58-times capped international will transition into the academy set-up with the opportunity to specialise in the scrum and contact area

Speaking following today’s announcement, the former loosehead said: “It has obviously been a tough decision but when you’re getting a bit older, your body makes the decision for you.

“For me, my body just couldn’t keep up with the demands of the professional game and I believe it’s now a good time to call it a day.

“There’s been loads of good memories along the way but it’s not just the games, there’s great pre-seasons, training and socials with the squad. I’ll definitely miss those moments with my teammates.

“To take up a position with the Fosroc Scottish Rugby Academy is a great opportunity for me.

“It’s the natural progression to transition from playing to coaching and I’ve been really fortunate to have been offered this role. I can’t wait to get started and it’s definitely going to be a great test.”

Born in Dundee, Dickinson joined Edinburgh as an apprentice in 2004, and went onto surpass 50 appearances in an Edinburgh shirt before joining English Premiership outfit Gloucester in 2007.

The prop made his international debut against New Zealand at BT Murrayfield in the 2007 World Cup, before making an appearance from the bench during Scotland’s famous 15-9 Calcutta Cup victory over England in March 2008.

As Dickinson’s international credentials continued to flourish, the prop would make the move at club level to Premiership rivals Sale Sharks.

In the summer of 2013, following two seasons with the Sharks, the prop returned north of the border to rejoin Edinburgh on a one-year-deal.

He earned his 100th cap for the club in the European Challenge Cup win over FC Grenoble in November 2015, and reached the half-century cap mark for Scotland in the Rugby World Cup 2015 clash against South Africa at St James’ Park, Newcastle.

Tom Botha vows to follow in Adam Jones' footsteps

Tom Botha has vowed to follow in the footsteps of Ospreys and Wales legend Adam Jones and become a prop star at the Liberty Stadium.

The 27-year-old has joined the Welsh region from PRO14 rivals Cheetahs and hopes to transform his new team's scrum into a real weapon.

Botha boasts a reputation as a formidable set-piece specialist and plans to emulate the success of former Wales ace Jones, as well as filling the void left by Dmitri Arhip's move to Cardiff Blues.

"I always rated Adam as one of the best scrummagers in the world. If you think of a perfect and natural number three, what you think of is Adam," Botha said.

"He was a tighthead who dominated the circuit around the world and he was one of the best there ever was. I will have to try to improve my game and focus on myself and see how I can get better.

"My passion is scrummaging and I love every single bit of it. My aim is to reach the heights of Adam."

Botha had a taste of the PRO14 last season in what was the Cheetahs' first campaign in the competition.

The South African outfit had an impressive debut and now Botha hopes to continue his fine individual form in Welsh rugby.

The man from Bellville in Cape Town hopes to lay a solid forward platform for Allen Clarke's side so star summer back signings Scott Williams and George North can be unleashed.

"In Super Rugby they use the scrum mainly as a way of getting the ball out and restarting play," Botha said. "In the PRO14 it's a fight to achieve dominance and that's something I enjoy.

"I prefer the PRO14 to Super Rugby. I like the forward battle with the scrums and mauls because it's more my type of game."

 

Newcastle Falcons bolster front-row stocks

USA international Paul Mullen has joined Newcastle Falcons for the first four months of the Premiership season as the club bolsters its propping stocks.

Born and raised in Ireland, the 26-year-old was part of Munster's Under-20s squad before relocating to the USA to further his studies.

Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Engineering Technology and a Masters in Marine Resources Management in Texas, Mullen represented USA Under-20s in the Junior World Trophy back in 2011.

Making his full international debut this summer, he started in the USA's victories over Canada, Scotland and Russia, and has been playing his club rugby for Major League side Houston SaberCats.

Speaking after completing his move to Kingston Park, Mullen said: "I am delighted to be joining Newcastle and am looking forward to developing my game further alongside a great squad."

Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards said: "Paul has broken through to the full international scene in quite a big way over the past few months, and been part of a rapidly-improving American Eagles side.

"His presence will further bolster our front-row resources going into the new Gallagher Premiership season as we look to improve yet again on what was our best league finish for 20 years."

Mullen’s arrival comes on the back of the previously-announced signings of George McGuigan (Leicester Tigers), Pedro Bettencourt (Carcassonne), Logovi’i Mulipola (Leicester Tigers), Guy Graham (Hawick), Tom Arscott (Rouen), Connor Collett (North Harbour), Nemani Nagusa (Aurillac) and Johnny Williams (London Irish), as well as senior academy promotions for England Under-18s stars Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, Morgan Passman, Will Montgomery, Tom Marshall, Josh Hodge and Rob Farrar.

Photo credit: Houston Sabercats 

Vaea Fifita puzzled by All Blacks omission

Vaea Fifita has expressed his confusion after being omitted in favour of Jackson Hemopo for the All Blacks' Rugby Championship squad.

Despite being something of a revelation in last year's tournament, numerous injuries have hampered Fifita's progress this year, with the utility forward having fallen down the pecking order behind lock combination Michael Fatialofa and Sam Lousi at the Hurricanes.

This has meant the 26-year-old has had to be content with brief cameo appearances off the bench, which has left him short of match fitness.

"This has probably been the hardest year for me playing Super, because I had a few injuries and then I come back and only play for like 30 minutes off the bench or 25," he told Stuff. "You're still unfit because you're coming back from injury and you need to play 80 minutes every week to get fit and get up to the speed of the game."

The final disappointment for Fifita in an altogether frustrating season came when he was a casualty of the trimming down of the training squad to the final 33-man group for the tournament.

According to the forward, he was told by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen that he was not selected because he had been used primarily as a lock by the Hurricanes this season and therefore he would not use Fifita as a blindside flank for the All Blacks.

Fifita was satisfied with this explanation at the time, but was left puzzled when in a later interview, Hansen said he had picked Hemopo as a back-up six and not a lock, despite Hemopo having played all season at lock for the Highlanders.

"He told me that, but when I saw he got interviewed and he said Hemopo was to cover six, not lock, I kind of feel he's not telling me the truth," he said.

"But that's life."

Fifita says he prefers the number six jersey, but the reason he was used at lock with the Hurricanes was because they were short on second-rows at the time.

"They asked me and I told them I don't enjoy playing lock," he added. "I prefer six, but I know I can't play six, because [Brad Shields] is there.

"At the same time, I didn't mind, because I just wanted to play.

"I like six, because I can use my athleticism to do what I can do on the outside, rather just stay tight and do the hard work, like running into a brick wall and getting your body tired."

Springbok duo commit to Lions

The Lions have received a boost with the news that Springbok duo Elton Jantjies and Lionel Mapoe have extended their contracts with the club for another year.

The pair are currently training with the Boks ahead of their Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Durban on Saturday.

Juan Figallo gets Argentina call

Saracens prop Juan Figallo has been called up by Argentina coach Mario Ledesma for Los Pumas’ opening two fixtures of the 2018 Rugby Championship.

Tighthead Figallo will be in contention for their matches against South Africa on 18th and 25th August before returning to Saracens for the beginning of the Premiership season.

Ledesma brought an end to Argentina’s blockade on selecting European-based players by adding Figallo to his squad.

The 30-year-old, who has 24 caps for his country, last represented Argentina at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Eben Etzebeth set for Springbok start

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has revealed that Eben Etzebeth is set to start in Saturday's Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Durban.

Erasmus confirmed the news on Monday, where the team gathered in the build-up to the weekend’s clash. Etzebeth has not played any rugby in 2018, with his last appearance coming against Wales back in December 2017.

“Yes, Eben is available and we will be looking at starting him instead of playing him from the bench,” Erasmus said.

“We got the clearance from the specialist so he is ready to go. He is fit and strong and has been functional for a while, and he has been with us at Stellenbosch for a few weeks where he has been training full-on.”

Erasmus added that he will have to manage the game time of several players, especially those who have played a lot of Super Rugby this year.

“Players such as Elton Jantjies, Franco Mostert and RG Snyman have seen a lot of action and clocked a lot of playing time, so we will have to be sensible in how we manage them, especially at the beginning of the campaign,” he said.

“It can mean that perhaps they would not be in the selection mix for this weekend. We are playing Argentina twice in two weeks, travelling over there next week, so we will have to factor all of those things when we look at the first two matches.”

Erasmus cautioned that Argentina will be a tough nut to crack over the next two weeks.

He added: “They have a new coach in Mario Ledesma, who will energise the team and if you look at how well the Jaguares performed this year – they were unbeaten on tour through Australasia and beat all of the South African teams – then there is no doubt that we are in for two very tough, competitive Pumas matches."

The Springbok team to face Argentina will be named on Thursday afternoon.

Jacob Stockdale ruled out until October

Ulster and Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale has been ruled out for six to eight weeks after scans revealed he had suffered a grade two hamstring strain.

Stockdale sustained the injury in pre-season training with Ulster and it is bad news for the Belfast-based club as the 22-year-old enjoyed a fantastic breakthrough season last year.

Stockdale scored a record-breaking seven tries in the 2018 Six Nations to announce himself on the international stage in spectacular fashion.

"Jacob Stockdale suffered a grade 2 hamstring strain in training and is expected to return to play in 6-8 weeks," read a statement on Ulster's official Twitter account.

Tyler Morgan reveals diabetes battle

Dragons and Wales centre Tyler Morgan has opened up on his battle with diabetes and how the illness contributed to him missing large parts of last season due to injury.

The talented 22-year-old Wales international suffered a severe ankle problem in October 2017 and then broke down again with a hairline fracture of his foot just four months later.

At the time, Morgan was unaware he was suffering with diabetes, but after being officially diagnosed with the condition, the Rodney Parade ace believes he has now finally got to the bottom of his fitness problems.

It’s good news for a player who has struggled on the sidelines.

“In May I wasn’t very well, I’d lost a lot of weight and I had all the main symptoms of having diabetes,” Morgan told the Dragons' official website.

“I told my parents I didn’t feel great and they said to go and get checked out. I went to the team doctor and we did a medical test that day.

“I was told I had Type 1 diabetes and the doctors said there is a strong link between the condition and lower body injuries. It was nice to have an explanation as to why I had such a tough season last year, but the news was still a shock to me and it’s something I’ve just had to get used to.

“When I look back on last year, I definitely didn’t feel myself. I felt weak and tired and just a bit down in general. It had an impact on my injuries and recovery which hopefully I’m over now.”

Morgan has four Wales caps to his name and it’s easy to forget he started for Warren Gatland’s side in their quarter-final clash with South Africa at the 2015 World Cup.

Since then injuries have hit hard and his last international appearance came against Samoa in June 2017. Morgan lost one and a half stone last season prior to official confirmation of his diagnosis which set the alarm bells ringing. So, how does an elite athlete deal with the condition?

“Diabetes is part of my life now,” said Morgan.

“Type 1 is when your pancreas just doesn’t produce insulin. You have too much sugar in your blood, so you have to inject insulin and I take my blood three or four times a day. It tells me whether my blood sugar is too high or too low.

“If I’m too high, I inject insulin. If I’m too low, I drink sugary drinks or eat jelly babies. It’s quite easy to manage, but I have to stay away from puddings or cakes and high carbohydrates now.

“I lost about 10 kilos in two weeks last season and it happened very quickly. It was lucky I wasn’t playing at the time and now I’m taking insulin, I’m back to my normal weight.

“It’s a bit of a change for me, but hopefully my normal performance will follow now too.

“The nurses at Llandough Hospital knew I would have to adapt very quickly with the new season around the corner and they’ve been very good to me. The doctor and the medical team at the Dragons have been great too in checking up on me regularly to see how I’m doing.

“I’ve got a good support team around me and I’d probably have lost my mind without all the people helping me. It’s all behind me now though.”

Morgan retains hope of earning a Wales recall in the future, but his immediate priority is securing regular rugby with the Dragons.

The Newport-born back has had a lot to deal with in his first few years as a professional including losing his national dual contract in April. Now he hopes the future is bright.

“I’m back fit now and I started training fully this week,” said Morgan, who plans to be in contention for the Dragons’ PRO14 opener with Benetton on September 1.

“It was very difficult last year with me only playing a handful of games. It’s a mental test and it can be a dark place when you’re in the gym working by yourself. Now there is light at the end of the tunnel which makes it all worth it.

“We’ve got a big first block of four games with the Dragons in which we’re looking to go really hard. I can’t wait to get out there.”

Photo credit: Official Dragons website

Will Genia ranks Bledisloe above World Cup

Wallabies scrum-half Will Genia has rated the Bledisloe Cup as an even greater prize than the World Cup, describing it as rugby's 'pinnacle'.

The Wallabies face the All Blacks on Saturday in Sydney in the opening match of a trans-Tasman series, which doubles as the opening match of the Rugby Championship.

The Wallabies have endured 16 long years without tasting Bledisloe series success and Genia, who has been a part of seven of those, is desperate to achieve what he believes is rugby's greatest challenge.

"To me, I'd have to say it's the pinnacle," Genia told the Guardian.

"The World Cup is obviously up there, but how often do you get to play the best team in the world three times and have to win two out of three to win a trophy?

"I've been trying for a while now so I'm really looking forward to another crack.

"I haven't won a World Cup so I'm not going to say it's harder.

"But for me it's the number one priority... it would make it incredibly special if we're fortunate enough to do it."

Michael Cheika's men will take confidence from the fact that they won the last Bledisloe encounter between the sides, although it was a dead rubber, and Genia said they wanted to replicate that form.

"It's just being relentless in the pressure you apply on them, with and without the ball, and bringing that physicality as well," he said.

"That was a big trademark of our game when we played them last time in Brisbane (a 23-18 win)."

All Blacks on 'high alert' over David Pocock threat

Flanker Sam Cane admits that the All Blacks will be on ‘high alert’ as they attempt to counteract the influence of Wallaby back-row David Pocock.

The Australian fetcher is the best in the world at the contact area and made an impressive return to the international arena against Ireland in June.

Although they succumbed 2-1 to the Six Nations winners, Pocock was hugely influential and was the primary reason as to why Michael Cheika’s men remained in contention until the very end.

Cheika will hope that the 30-year-old can have a similar impact in the first Bledisloe Cup game of the season this weekend and Cane admits that New Zealand will have to take extra precautions.

“He's always a big threat when he plays," he said. “The way he continually bounces back and plays at a high level is pretty outstanding. It just creates an awareness – we're on more of a high alert than normal around the breakdown.

"In every Test match there's always a big emphasis on the breakdown whether it's their ball or our ball, disrupting their ball or trying to get fast ball. It will be a focus again."

All Blacks boss Steve Hansen echoed Cane’s comments as the three-time world champions look to start the defence of their Rugby Championship title on a positive note.

“He’s a great scavenger of the ball,” Hansen added. “He’s somebody that we’ll have to be aware of at the breakdown. If we’re not he’ll come in and pinch the ball, so that would be painful.”

Nick Easter joins Sharks coaching panel

Former England international Nick Easter has taken up a coaching role with the Sharks for the upcoming Currie Cup season, according to RugbyPass.

Easter confirmed his departure from Harlequins recently for 'personal reasons', where he had been defence coach since 2016, having retired with a record-breaking 281 appearances for the club prior to that.

The 39-year-old played in three World Cups for England, winning 54 caps.

Easter now looks to advance his coaching career abroad and emulate the likes of Joe Worsley, Ian Vass and Rory Teague.

The Sharks kick off their Currie Cup campaign with a clash against the Blue Bulls at Kings Park in Durban on August 25.

Michael Hooper fit for Rugby Championship opener

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has recovered from injury in time to face New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup after being named in a trimmed down squad.

The skipper hasn’t played since suffering a hamstring issue in the first Test against Ireland, but his return is a timely boost for head coach Michael Cheika.

He joins uncapped duo Jack Maddocks and Tom Banks in the 28-man group while Reece Hodge has moved closer to the number 13 jersey.

Waratahs centre Curtis Rona loomed as Hodge's major competition for the role but he was one of eight players cut from the squad six days out from the Test opener.

Israel Folau is the only other possibility for the spot, though Cheika has been adamant he prefers him in the 15 jersey.

Cheika said after the Wallabies trial at Leichhardt Oval that Hodge or Rona would be the most likely 13 options for the opening Bledisloe.

Despite the signs all pointing to the Rebels utility stepping up to that spot, Hodge was keeping his cards close to his chest when asked about the prospect on Sunday.

"There's still a few guys in the squad who can play 13," he told rugby.com.au.

"Izzy's (Folau) still an option as well. At the moment, throughout the preparation, the last few weeks has been about trying as many combinations we can get comfortable playing next to everyone who's in the squad and I think it's going to be really important for us come game one.

"Getting that game time a couple of weeks ago to try out those combinations under a match situation and then throughout training as well.

"It's important to be able to play depending on who's where. Cheik's still got a week to change his mind about selections, so who knows where it's going to up but we're prepared as best we can be for Saturday."

Meanwhile, Banks and Maddocks will be likely competing for a Test debut in the clash – the only two uncapped players left in the squad after Jordan Petaia, Billy Meakes, Folau Faingaa and Jermaine Ainsley missed the cut.

Scott Sio (shoulder) has also been passed fit, while Rory Arnold, Caleb Timu, Billy Meakes and Sefa Naivalu are the others who missed the cut after a week-long camp in Cessnock.

Australia’s 28-man squad for Rugby Championship opener:

Forwards: Allan Alaalatoa, Adam Coleman, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper (c), Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Pete Samu, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, Lukhan Tui, Taniela Tupou

Backs: Tom Banks, Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks, Nick Phipps, Joe Powell, Matt Toomua

Beauden Barrett to start at fly-half against Australia

All Blacks selector Grant Fox has confirmed that two-time World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett will wear the fly-half jersey against Australia.

Richie Mo’unga has put Barrett’s position under threat following a fine Super Rugby campaign for the Crusaders, but Fox says that the 24-year-old will have to wait for his chance.

"Beauden is the established 10 who has done nothing wrong in an All Blacks jersey, and we have done pretty well in the last little while with him steering the ship around," he told RadioLIVE.

"Richie will get his opportunity - the only way for him to get the experience that Beauden has is to be given a run at some stage."

Meanwhile, backs Sonny Bill Williams and Nehe Milner-Skudder have remained in New Zealand after the All Blacks squad was trimmed to 32.

Williams is unavailable with a shoulder injury while Milner-Skudder was seen as an unlikely starter for the first game of the 2018 Rugby Championship.

Pro D2 player dies during match

France's rugby community are in mourning after the death of a young player during a second division pre-season fixture on Friday evening.

21-year-old Louis Fajfrowski, who played centre for Pro D2 outfit Aurillac passed away in his team's changing room, the club revealed via their Twitter account.

Fajfrowski was replaced in the 60th minute after a tackle during Aurillac's clash with Rodez.

He was stunned by the hit but got to his feet with assistance and left the field unaided but accompanied by a doctor.

Fajfrowski then lost consciousness several times but according to La Montagne newspaper, he passed away roundabout 20:00 local time despite the arrival of the emergency services.

An official investigation has been launched into the cause of death with an autopsy scheduled for Monday.

"We will find out why he died and if the tackle provoked his death," the local prosecutor's office said.

The prosecutor added that when Fajfrowski "left the pitch his condition did not appear to be alarming. He even wanted to return (to play) afterwards, but he then began to vomit."

Tributes were made to the player, with French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte saying he was "devastated".

Top14 clubs including Toulon, Stade Français and Racing 92 also sent their condolences.

Fajfrowski moved to Aurillac in 2015 after three seasons with Montpellier's youth team.

Ospreys dealt blow to front-row stocks

Ospreys' Moldovan international prop Gheorghe Gajion has been ruled out of action for up to six months after undergoing surgery on a hamstring injury.

The 25-year old, a new addition to the squad this summer damaged a hamstring in training and Chris Towers, Medical Performance Manager, confirmed today:

“Gheorghe suffered a significant hamstring injury which required surgery to repair it. He could be out for up to six months."

Dan Carter rules out Highlanders move

Former All Blacks and Crusaders fly-half Dan Carter has denied that he will make a return to Super Rugby in 2019 to join the Highlanders.

It has been rumoured that the 36-year-old would join the Dunedin-based franchise, who are coached by his good friend and ex-club and international team-mate Aaron Mauger.

First-choice Highlanders pivot Lima Sopoaga left the the 2015 Super Rugby champions to join Premiership outfit Wasps and although the Highlanders have Bryn Gatland and Josh Ioane on their books, there is space for another fly-half in their squad.

That has led to suggestions that Carter could join the men from Dunedin when he has finished the season with Japanese club Kobelco Steelers.

"I'm not sure where that came from," Carter told Stuff.

"I hadn't actually thought about it. Hayden Parker, he's in the same team as me, we were away on camp, and he read something about me going down there and that was the first I'd heard about it.

"I think I'd prefer after the Japanese season to spend a bit of time with my family, rather than play another Super Rugby season."

Carter was linked with a move to Blues from the Crusaders in 2009 but he turned it down as he said it would be difficult for him to leave the the Christchurch-based franchise.

He finished his Super Rugby career with the Crusaders in 2015 before joining Top 14 outfit Racing 92. And although he spent three seasons at the French club, he has kept a close eye on the Crusaders' progress in Super Rugby and is delighted that they have won back to back titles.

"What they've achieved over the last couple of years has been incredible," he said.

"They're doing similar things to the Crusaders of old and they've got a similar environment.

"I'm lucky enough to be able to talk to Razor (Crusaders coach Scott Robertson) and the coaching staff there, to see what they're creating and it's something very special, powerful and unique.

"It's not something that's going to fall over in a year or two or be a one-season wonder, they're building something strong and powerful.

"I've only got admiration for what they've achieved over the last couple of years."

Steve Hansen to keep Rieko Ioane on the wing for All Blacks

Coach Steve Hansen says Rieko Ioane will remain on the wing for the All Blacks, despite having scored a hat-trick at centre in the 'Game of Three Halves'.

As part of the 'Game of Three Halves', the All Blacks played Canterbury and Otago for 40 minutes each at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Friday night.

Although it was a pre-season friendly, it means Ioane has now scored consecutive hat-tricks in his last two All Blacks appearances. The 21-year-old has featured predominantly at centre for the Blues in Super Rugby this season.

But Hansen insists it was more about giving everyone a run than a conscious decision to play him there.

"He was all right but we have got enough of them," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen after the 'Game of Three Halves' in regard to how he felt Ioane played at centre.

"To give everyone a run the logical thing was to put him at centre. We didn't really care where people played we just wanted them to play and experience burning lungs."

Pat Lam relishing next challenge

Former Blues and Connacht coach Pat Lam is excited for the next challenge of his coaching career in the Premiership with Bristol Bears.

Lam, who made a big impact in Ireland when coaching the Connacht side to a PRO12 competition win, switched to Bristol in English rugby, taking the side out of the Championship last season ready for the Premiership this season.

As the English season gets underway, Lam admitted that starting with the side in the Championship had been a help in ensuring standards were set for the side.

"I'm happy with where we are at the moment, because it was such an important part of the plan to have everyone – players, staff, coaches – all understanding the directions we're heading and the sense of our vision: 'inspiring our community through rugby success'," he told bristolbearsrugby.com.

"I've always said, for me, rugby has to be more than a game – it's who you are and what you do, because that drives you every day and that's what we're trying to do with the players."

Lam said Bristol wanted to be a Champions Cup team, they wanted their qualified players to play for England and they wanted to develop Bristol players.

"So, because I talk to a player about it before he signs, there's no confusion and nothing takes them by surprise when we say, 'we're going to go to a community visit here'. Or 'we're going to go and coach Bristol Bears women', it's not a problem.

"So, 12 months later, it's in a really good place. I wasn't exactly pleased, when I arrived, that we were in the Championship, but it was a huge blessing in disguise because that part of setting up the vision and getting everybody working in the same direction was more important than being in the Premiership last season, so I now feel we have a stronger foundation to build our vision on," he said.

Lam appears to have struck a chord with locals with season tickets reaching record sales and more than 16,000 tickets sold for the club's opening game against Bath on August 31.

The community response was encouraging because, he said, "When you're in the field and in the heat of battle, and you're winning and hanging on with a minute to go, or you're losing, and you've got to get in – what drives you more is the fact you're playing for something more than the game, I'm playing for my friends, my family, my neighbours, my community.

"In professional rugby, we all come from different places but if we connect them to our community, they understand what it is – and that's what I love," he said.

There was a passion and hunger in Bristol for the team to succeed and that fitted in with what they were trying to achieve.