Pat Lam warns reducing marquee players will impact young English rugby talent

Bristol Bears director of rugby Pat Lam believes the production line of English talent will suffer from the decision to reduce the number of marquee players at each Gallagher Premiership club from two to one.

As part of a drive to reduce costs in the wake of the financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the salary cap has been cut by £ 1.4million to £ 5million from this season.

In addition, as of 2022-23, each club will only be able to retain one player whose wages fall outside the £ 5million ceiling once existing contracts have expired.

Lam has confirmed that the Bears’ prized assets Semi Radradra and Charles Piutau are tied to Ashton Gate for next season despite speculation that their marquee players might depart sooner.

And the Bristol boss insists the influence of high-quality overseas players should not be underestimated.

“Both of them have been phenomenal since they’ve been here. They’ve been massive, ”Lam said.

“People talk about them around the world and that puts a spotlight on the English Premiership. What they’ve done is have an impact on the guys here.

“All of those boys – Steven Luatua, John Afoa, Chris Vui – have had a massive impact on the guys around them and they’re English players and you’ll see them coming through.

Semi Radradra (second left) and Charles Piutau (second right) are staying at Bristol next season (Simon Galloway / PA)

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“They get the chance to work with these guys, who help them as well. So there’s the impact on the next generation coming through and on the English-qualified guys who learn off them.

“Every team has had marquee players and the purpose of them was to get the right person to not only help you on the field but also to help the competition and help those who are coming through.”

Radradra underlined his value when he crossed for a dynamic solo try in the 10-9 victory over Sale that gives Bristol a slight advantage heading into the second leg of Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup last 16 tie at Ashton Gate.

The 29-year-old Fiji star missed four months of the season because of knee surgery but in Manchester showed a glimpse of the talent that will be needed if the Bears are to mount a meaningful challenge in Europe.

“Without a doubt the try shows what they can do,” Lam said. “The team provided the opportunity for Semi to line-break and Semi reminded everybody how world class he is at those things.

“Semi’s a real trooper. You guys see those moments, but we see the other moments that he’s created. I said after the game that he would be the first to admit he wants to be better.

“Every day he works away on it (the knee injury). Semi’s one of the mentally toughest at just cracking on and he just goes through it. ”

Meanwhile, Lam says he supports the principle behind a law trial in place in Super Rugby that means a sent-off player can be tactically replaced by a substitute after 20 minutes.

World Rugby is considered extending the law trial, which is designed to stop games being ruined by the increase in dismissals because of dangerous tackles, to other competitions.

“To me the bigger issue is the consistency in the decisions to give reds,” Lam said. “That (the law trial) would help if a decision is not consistent.

“It used to be very rare that there was a red card. Red cards were for out and out foul play, punching someone or really dangerous play.

“The rule is probably a good idea with the amount of red cards that are out there at the moment. They’re very prevalent and pretty much every week someone gets a red card. ”

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