Ask proud Welshman Ioan Lloyd to name the player he admired most growing up and, as a budding young fly-half, you might expect the gifted 18-year-old to reel off Dan Biggar, Gareth Anscombe, Stephen Jones or one of a plethora of star home-grown names.
However, in keeping with the free-spirited style he has brought to Bristol’s attack, the Cardiff-born playmaker replies: “It sounds strange, but my biggest inspiration is a New Zealand Rugby League player called Shaun Johnson, who currently plays for Cronulla in the NRL.
“He was at New Zealand Warriors before and I’ve always spent time watching his games on YouTube because of his style of play. He’s just so free and so fast and I love seeing what he brings to the game. He’s the one I’ve always enjoyed watching the most.”
Lloyd is the man Bristol fans currently enjoy watching. Since being awarded a top-flight debut on the opening day against Bath, becoming the club’s youngest ever Premiership player and try- scorer to boot, he has managed three further league appearances and played a part in his side’s opening two Challenge Cup victories over Zebre and Brive.
“It’s been a good season so far and personally it’s been a crazy experience, nothing I ever dreamed of,” Lloyd said. “I never imagined I’d get this number of opportunities and I’ve been very lucky, but I’m enjoying every minute and would like more.
“Playing in front of 27,000 against Bath, I’d never experienced anything near that. The year before I played in a memorial match for Clifton College against Millfield in front of about 2,000, but going out at a packed Ashton Gate was unbelievable.”
Educated at Glantaff School, Lloyd played his junior rugby at St Peters RFC and was on the radar of Cardiff Blues before switching to Clifton College at 16.
He explained: “That was mainly through my dad. My brother played a game against Clifton and my dad got in touch with Matt Salter, their DoR, who has strong Bristol connections. Having the chance to play U18s rugby was a big part and things went from there.”
Now part of Bristol’s ‘integrated academy squad’, Lloyd adds: “We’re lucky in that we get to train with the first team so we’re in and among it all the time, which means there are no issues when you play apart from the fact we don’t have the same experience.
“As senior academy guys, we try to make the most of it and that’s why Pat Lam has so much trust in us. Siale Piutau is my biggest mentor but all the 10s have been great and Tiff Eden, Ian Madigan and Callum Sheedy are brilliant to learn off as well.”
While Lloyd is being tipped for the top, he says: “Wales U20s or anything else would be a massive honour, but I’m just focussed on getting better and doing my best for Bristol. There’s a real buzz and a belief that we can do something really good.”
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