PAT LAM has pulled off a sensational coup with the signing of Fijian wing Semi Radradra which should help catapult his Bears to even greater heights. Sitting top of the Premiership heading into this weekend, and top of their European Pool, Lam has quickly turned Bristol into a formidable side.
And Radradra can help them to the next level.
He was the standout player of the World Cup Pool stage, playing four 80-minute games for Fiji and winning man-of-the-match honours in their narrow defeat to eventual semi-finalists Wales. He made 62 carries and ran for 400 metres which is an average of 100 metres per game – nothing short of magnificent.
The thing that impresses me most is that he pops up all over the place and displays all-round skill that makes him one of the world’s premier players.
He sets the benchmark for wing play and has such a skillset that he looks just as dangerous when he wears the 13 shirt – and he passes the ball better than most international centres! In fact he looks so assured I believe he could also do a good job at full-back.
Wherever he is in the backline he is a constant threat, even from first receiver and can offload one-handed, two handed or basketball style.
He’s a tall guy – 1.95m (6ft 4ins) and weights over 100kg (15st 7lbs) – so he brings heft and power and he’s got serious wheels. This lad can really shift and has a killer step, as he showed in Bordeaux’s win over Wasps in the Champions Cup a fortnight ago. In that game he often took the ball directly from the scrum-half, even deep in his own half, which allowed Begels to keep possession rather than force the No.9 into box-kicking.
Not many wingers can step in to 13 but he looks just at home there and handles it comfortably. But I see Lam playing him on the wing because it’s less restrictive and he can have a licence to roam. He is a serious talent and Lam will want him to get his hands on the ball as much as possible.
What I really like, and something I can relate to, is that he identifies space and then attacks it. He picks wonderful lines and goes where he wants to go which is very difficult to defend against.
But if there is a collision coming his way, he seems to relish the challenge and looks to make a big impact by dipping and charging with ball, elbow and shoulder to power through the tackle. That could be one area he needs to be careful because if the defender dips into the tackle he could be in dangerous territory but it’s been extremely effective so far.
He showed his class in that Bordeaux victory over Wasps when he stepped his way past three defenders and over the try-line, and then passed to scrum-half Yann Lesgourges to touch down. It was a joy to watch as he makes everything look so easy.
Any coach would be happy with their wingers making an average of 15 carries per game, and to make a 100 metres a game consistently are stunning statistics. It’s how Fiji play and he sees a lot of ball, but Bristol also go through the phases and try and play an attractive brand of rugby so it will be interesting to see if he gets as much ball at the Bears.
The indications are yes because Pat Lam has them going through the phases and they like to attack. It requires high levels of confidence, top class skill sets and, above all, balls because it’s an incredibly bold way to play the modern game. There are easier ways to win a rugby match – but it excites the fans.
Wasps received huge plaudits for their style a couple of seasons back and one of their chief tormentors was Charles Piutau, right – but their strength of pack was their underlying weakness. Lam seems to be arresting any flaws up front with some big signings already, and their front five look decent. I wouldn’t say it’s as strong as Exeter or Saracens yet, but you don’t necessarily need a load of internationals to make the pack formidable.
A back three including Radradra and Piutau, and probably Luke Morahan, will be one of the best in the Premiership if not the best. Only Bath’s could be better if Anthony Watson, Semesa Rokoduguni and Joe Cokanasiga are all on song.
There will be some magic moments come September and then again in the spring when the pitches are hard and we see these guys at their attacking best.
Lam and Bristol owner Steve Lansdown have done a remarkable job bringing Radradra on board and whatever they are paying him it’s probably not enough, he is that good. He had a massive reputation in Rugby League after his time with the Parramatta Eels in Australia.
They were keen to lure him back and there was no shortage of Top 14 sides interested. He could have stayed having fun in the sun but he has seen the potential of what Bristol can achieve by signing a three-year deal.
I wrote last week that Bristol are genuine top four contenders this season and Radradra’s arrival will help them consolidate that next season, and chase the top prizes at home and in Europe. He is a spectacular signing which says a lot about the club and the Premiership.