The Bristol fullback set to excite Premiership fans after a year-long injury layoff
It’s been a long road to recovery for one of the Bears’ most exciting players, but Mat Protheroe is ready to light up the Premiership in tandem with All Black star Charles Piutau.
In and amongst a multitude of injuries to some of its top-billed players, the Gallagher Premiership has enjoyed a bumper season where promoting Championship talent is concerned. Wasps have been delighted by inside centre Michael le Bourgeois, Leicester Tigers have finally been able to field the best of now Wales international Jonah Holmes and Bristol have flaunted a host of players able to take that sizable step from the second to the first tier of professional rugby in their stride.
However, one man that has cruelly denied his chance to join the throng of progressive talent is former Hartpury College and Gloucester fullback, Mat Protheroe. The exciting 22-year-old is yet to make his first Premiership appearance for Bristol this season after nearly a year sidelined with a knee injury, but has made his long-awaited return in the Premiership Shield and Challenge Cup over the last fortnight; with Bristol’s staff describing the Hartpury College product’s return as both busy and lively. Suffice to say, those in the know are pretty excited by Protheroe’s potential.
If you haven’t come across the former England age-grade star before now, all you’d need to do is ask Bristol’s regular supporters, who would surely be eager to regale the truths of the youngster’s attacking pedigree to any in earshot. The Swansea-born tyro has pace to burn, a vicious ability to change direction at high-speed and a handy nose for space, winning Bristol’s 2018 try of the season with an incredible length of the field score against the Cornish Pirates.
Protheroe’s ability to operate at fly-half is a further string to both his own and Bristol’s bow, offering the second playmaking option in each attacking wave. And with the likes of Luke Morahan, Will Hurrell and Alapati Leiua lighting up the Premiership this year, there is plenty of scope for the former England U18s and U20s man to emulate the likes of Saracens’ Alex Goode or Wasps’ Willie le Roux.
Throughout the remainder of an arduous Premiership season, Bristol’s prized possession, All Blacks fullback Charles Piutau, will surely be in need of respite if he is to put his best foot forward up until May. A matter that is likely to hand Protheroe ample opportunity to shine on the most prominent of stages.
While some may be dubious of Protheroe’s potential starts in place of Piutau - who is currently one of the top five highest paid players in the world – Bristol boss Pat Lam has been as good as his word so far this season when it comes to player rotation and trusting the youth. The opportunities granted 20-year-old scrum-half Harry Randall and 23-year-old standoff Callum Sheedy stand as prime examples to Lam’s belief in his less experienced players.
Randall was set to be Bristol’s third-choice nine this season with local product Andy Uren and Australian Nic Stirzaker expected to vie for a starting role. However, Randall has already started two Premiership games so far this campaign, has made a further four league appearances from the bench and has started two out of three of the Bears’ Challenge Cup games to date. Sheedy meanwhile has won himself an almost equal share of Bristol’s ten jersey so far this season, starting four games to Irish international Ian Madigan’s five. A further example comes in the shape of promising centre Piers O’Conor, who has more than stepped up to the plate when tasked with a Premiership role and has even stood the challenge of playing out of position in the backfield when Bristol’s divisions at fullback were plagued by injury.
Taking into consideration the expansive style of play Lam has employed at Ashton Gate so far this season and his willingness to hand less experienced players a fair shot, we can be sure Protheroe’s best qualities will be provided with the perfect platform for all to see. A clean bill of health is all this exciting Premiership prospect will require to flog his wares at the highest level.
Protheroe currently demands a meagre £112K salary in The Rugby Mag’s Premiership Fantasy, a potential diamond in the rough for prospecting managers. With Bristol’s staff describing Protheroe’s recent outings and both “busy” and “lively”, he seems on course to delight Premiership fans.