Why Steven Luatua’s contract extension is the most important part of Bristol’s season to date

All Black backrower Steven Luatua seemed set to return to his native land of New Zealand earlier this season, but the revelation of a two-year contract extension at Ashton Gate overshadows any of Bristol’s early-season successes.


By Alistair Stokes
3rd January
By Alistair Stokes
3rd January

All Black backrower Steven Luatua seemed set to return to his native land of New Zealand earlier this season, but the revelation of a two-year contract extension at Ashton Gate overshadows any of Bristol’s early-season successes.

The star-studded cast former Connacht and Samoa coach Pat Lam has mobilised at Ashton Gate this season proved attractive enough for most fans and pundits to predict a second consecutive year of Premiership rugby for The Bears, expecting the newly rebranded side to do the job of avoiding the dreaded drop. Along with Lam’s success with Ireland’s least glamorous province - taking Connacht from 10th place in the 13/14 season to Pro12 champions two years later – confidence both within and without ‘The Gate’ rose to levels unseen for over a decade.

A season-opening victory over West Country rivals Bath at home, a strong showing against reigning champions Saracens on their own turf (or carpet), the sound defeat of Harlequins in week four and an excruciatingly narrow loss at the hands of top-ranked side Exeter Chiefs may stand out as far as results go, but news of Luatua’s retention stands as the most significant of their season to date and will play a key role going forward.

Almost every side that has faced and vanquished the threat of relegation has done so under the guidance of a standard bearer. Over the last five years, Springbok scrum-half Francois Hougaard has led the charge for Worcester Warriors while Newcastle Falcons rose from the bottom two to the top four with the aid of Samoan sensation Sinoti Sinoti, a ball of electrified rubber that defied the rules of physics to propel the Falcons to safety with some simply audacious footwork, pace and power.

Lam may have set his stall on qualifying for Champions Cup rugby this season, but the fierce nature of the league as it stands leaves over half the league flirting with the threat of fighting the drop. As they continue to adapt to life in the Premiership and top half hopefuls. and ride out the unavoidable rough patches, Bristol will need Luatua’s presence.

As club captain and the side’s most consistent presence on the blindside, the 27-year-old is the man Bristol rally behind when the going gets tough, and make no mistake about it, that is when Luatua gets going. 

We may not have been treated to some of the expansive rugby we may have come to expect from the 15-times-capped New Zealander, but glue works best holding things steady, which is exactly why Lam will have been so desperate to reacquire Luatua’s signature over the Christmas period.

Both for the current season and the seasons ahead, Luatua will be at the heart of any and all success Bristol may attain. Charles Piutau and John Afoa may be stealing the limelight, but the most important New Zealander within the Bristol camp is penned in at Ashton Gate until 2021.

The Rugby Magazine

Filed under: Gallagher Premiership, New Zealand, Bristol Bears
Written by: Alistair Stokes
Follow: @alistokesrugby · @therugbymag

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