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Match Preview: Bristol Bears (H)



Fixture: London Irish vs Bristol Bears

Competition: Gallagher Premiership, Round 15

Date: 8th January 2023

Kick-off: 3pm

Stadium: Gtech Community Stadium

Capacity: 17,250


A crunch Gallagher Premiership clash awaits for London Irish in Round 15 of the competition, with Pat Lam’s Bristol Bears arriving in Brentford this Sunday (8th).

Following on from a famous win at the Gtech against Saracens, Gloucester Rugby edged out Declan Kidney’s Exiles with a late penalty kick from Santiago Carreras to close out 2022.

Including the reverse to the Cherry and Whites at Kingsholm, Irish have attained losing bonus points in their last five defeats and additionally registered the third-most tackles in Round 14 with 138.

They return to their home in west London this weekend having lost just once in Premiership games since April, nevertheless, Bears are unbeaten at the Gtech and have tasted defeat only once to Irish since 2009, coming in a 32-49 defeat at Ashton Gate in 2022.

Sitting at the foot of the league standings with Irish in ninth, the West Country outfit approach the game having won their last three matches, including away to Harlequins.

A strong defensive effort at the Stoop (fifth-highest tackle count of the round, 134) saw Bears close out a scoreless second half from their team to win 15-12, despite having the least amount of visits to 22 (3) and carries (71) of the round.

Having played out a bye week, Bears return to the west side of the capital in search of a first pair of successive away Premiership wins since May 2021.

Throughout the season, the Ashton Gate outfit average the least number of kicks per game with 22.8, Irish being just ahead on 23.6, and also record the second-most metres per game with 425.6.

The boss- Pat Lam:

Before joining Bristol Bears, Pat Lam won Connacht Rugby the 2015/16 Pro12, their first ever major trophy before bringing even more success to Ashton Gate.

He spent a short time involved with Samoa as a coach before a move to the west of Ireland, competing in three Rugby World Cup campaigns for the Pacific nation alongside a cap for his country of birth, New Zealand.

In a short turnaround since linking up with Bears in 2017, Lam led the Club to a successful promotion charge from the Championship to the helm of the Premiership in three seasons.

Upon return to the Premiership Bristol finished in the highest table positioning of any promoted team in 12 years, then winning the side a first major trophy since 1983, the 2019/20 EPCR Challenge Cup, in what is an extensive résumé.

Time on the field for the 54-year-old is almost as impressive, playing for Crusaders to then go on and win the first Premiership title with Newcastle Falcons as well as captaining Northampton Saints to their first Heineken Cup in 2000.

Upon conclusion of his playing days, Lam started his venture into the technical area with the Scottish national team in their 2003 Rugby World Cup campaign to then move back to Auckland and Blues.

One to watch- Fitz Harding:

23-year-old Fitz Harding became part of the set-up at Bears as of July 2020, signing on to their Academy set-up after sharing the field with Exile Josh Basham at Durham University.

In his time in the north of England, he aided in a BUCS Super Rugby title lift for Durham and was then shortlisted for a Player of the Season gong in the tournament.

Having studied at Wellington College, Harding went onto Durham to study history and made his name in the university scene before being picked up by Bears.

A breakout season after penning his deal with Bristol saw the back-row forward make his Club debut in a substitute appearance against the Exiles three months later in the Premiership.

Harding possesses deft handling and bustling runs that will look to pose a threat to a London Irish side he has faced three times so far, having been sidelined in the return fixture at Ashton Gate back in September.

Last term, 22 first team appearances saw him fully integrated into the Bears fold as a senior squad player, and has since added to that figure with seven further games and a try against Perpignan in the EPCR Challenge Cup.

Classic Encounter- London Irish 38-21 Bristol – 4th April 2009 – Guinness Premiership:

London Irish strengthened their play-off credentials in a deciding result against Bristol at the Madejski Stadium in the 2008/09 season, whilst the away side were condemned to the second tier.

Scott Linklater pushed his way through traffic for a first try, leapfrogging Tom Homer’s opening penalty, but Irish were to fight back through forward power represented in Nick Kennedy sauntering through and then Steffon Armitage.

Having taken a nine-point lead into the break, Kennedy resumed his scoring tendencies to extend the Irish cushion but David Lemi’s intuition saw him race away for a score after telegraphing a pass.

It wasn’t to be for Bristol as Paul Hodgson burrowing over closely followed Adam Thompstone’s brace settled the game, a late Luke Eves score proving only as a consolation.

London Irish

Tries: Nick Kennedy (2), Steffon Armitage, Adam Thompstone (2), Paul Hodgson

Cons: Delon Armitage

Penalties: Tom Homer (2)


Tries: Scott Linklater, David Lemi, Luke Eves

Conversions: Luke Arscott (3)

Pre-match patter:

Bristol Bears Director of Rugby Pat Lam has confirmed that England front-row duo Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler, as well as Joe Joyce, are available for selection against London Irish this weekend.

“He [Ellis Genge] is excited,” Lam commented on Genge’s return, who has not played for his Club in over a month.  

“He was tied up with England earlier this week with Kyle but both of them are back, trained well yesterday and are in the frame for this week.”

Lam also took time to offer his praise for short-term injury cover and former Exile Elliot Stooke, who departed for Montpellier Hérault this week, and underlined the impact of returning players from the sidelines.

“Elliott Stooke was on a short-term thing, he’s now left which we purposely timed for Joe Joyce so he comes back in.

“Elliott was great, he came in and did a job for us; really helped us when we were struggling in the second row but it’s good to have Joycey back.

“The timing of the guys’ returning; you see the difference with Steven Luatua, who came back after a long break, also Semi Radradra – rugby players don’t like being out for a long time, they don’t like watching rugby.

“Injuries are character-building but it also allows excitement to come back into their game, so I expect the same from Ellis and Kyle.

“Both of them haven’t played for a while so we should see a lot of enthusiasm and excitement.”

Content & Images from – London Irish Rugby





Sale Sharks have agreed a deal to sign Fiji captain Waisea Nayacalevu from French Top14 side Toulon. 

The explosive centre, who starred for his country during the recent World Cup, has signed a one-year contract with an option for a further year. 

He will join up with Alex Sanderson’s Sharks squad ahead of the start of the 2024/25 Gallagher Premiership season. 

Waisea, 33, said: “I’ve watched the Premiership for a long time and it’s always been in the back of my mind that I would love to play there one day and experience rugby in England. 

“Now that opportunity has arrived and I’m really, really happy and grateful. I’m so excited to get over there and join the boys and see how I can contribute to the team. 

“I have spoken to Telusa Veainu and he only has positive things to say about the club and about Manchester. 

“I’m looking forward to playing with some of the guys I’ve played against, like Tom Curry and George Ford. But I also know there are a lot of really talented young players in the Sale Sharks squad and I’m excited to share my experience and help them develop as much as I can.  

“I told Alex that it’s what I’ve been doing for the last few years of my career and it’s something I’m passionate about.” 

Nayacalevu, who stands at 6’4” and weighs in at 16st 7lb, spent ten years at Top14 side Stade Français before making the switch to Toulon in 2022.  

He has won 34 caps for Fiji, slotting in at both centre and on the wing, and captained his country at last year’s World Cup, where the Pacific Islanders made the quarter-finals, losing 30-24 to England in Marseille. 

He also famously scored for Fiji in their memorable pre-World Cup win against England at Twickenham. 

Images & Content from Sale Sharks Rugby

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Falcons star to join Saracens



Phil Brantingham to join Saracens

Tuesday 05 March 2024 Written by: Tom Grisedale

Prop-forward Phil Brantingham will leave Newcastle Falcons in the summer to join Saracens.

The 22-year-old has played 25 games for his home town club, and leaves with the thanks and best wishes of everyone at the Falcons.

Chairman of rugby Matt Thompson said: “Phil has done well for us and we made him a good offer to stay here.

“We respect his decision and wish him all the best for his move in the summer, but between now and then he will be fully committed to finishing the season strongly for Newcastle Falcons.”

Source – Newcastle Falcons Rugby

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Sale Sharks can confirm that forward Cobus Wiese will leave the club at the end of the season to return to South Africa. 

The 26-year-old lock has played almost 80 games for the club and scored five tries since joining from the DHL Stormers ahead of the 2020/21 season. 

He played a key role last year as Sale reached the Premiership final, and this season he has featured a further 13 times for Alex Sanderson’s side. 

Alex said: “Cobus will be missed by all of us on so many levels. He’s the most polite and courteous of people off the field, but the most wildly excitable man on the field, and on a night out. 

“To say Cobus wears his heart on his sleeve is to do him a disservice with regards to his emotional commitment for which his body has paid the price on occasion.  

“He leads by example and has earnt the respect and adoration of the group both on a professional and a personal level. We wish him every success and happiness with his move back home.” 

Everyone at Sale Sharks would like to thank Cobus for his contribution to the club and the team during his time here and we wish him all the very best for the future.  

Images & Content from Sale Sharks Rugby

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