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In-Depth: Luatua on Lions, Lam and a Bristolian welcome

He only arrived in Bristol yesterday afternoon, but Steven Luatua’s first encounter with the club’s supporters came almost two months ago in Auckland.

While the city geared up for the Blues’ midweek clash with the British and Irish Lions – a match which saw Luatua star in a memorable last-gasp victory for the hosts – the 26-year-old came across a band of touring Bristolians, who wasted little time in letting him know where they were from.

“I met some Bristol supporters in New Zealand when the Lions tour was on – and they were really vocal about that and really passionate about the club, which I thought was great,” he said.

“So I’m looking forward to getting to Ashton Gate and putting in some good performances for them when the season gets underway.

“Being able to pull on the Bristol colours just for a photo shoot was pretty exciting and I’m looking forward to getting out there, getting to know the guys and getting to play."

Steven Luatua arrived at Bristol Rugby this morning (JMP UK).

“Bristol Rugby is one of the most ambitious clubs in the UK and that’s backed up by a really passionate fan base. I’ve heard great things about the environment that is being built there and the plans in place, so I can’t wait to get started in the summer.”

Luatua started at number eight as Tana Umaga’s Blues toppled the touring Lions, making a match-winning contribution with a deft one-handed offload in the build-up to Ihaia West’s late score – and it’s a night he admits will live long in the memory.

“It was awesome, definitely one of the highlights of my career, to not only play them but beat them in the way that we did.

“I was real proud of the Blues’ effort, just the accumulation of things throughout the year, we were training to close out games and win the last ten minutes – and to be able to do that on the biggest stage against one of the greatest teams was pretty special.”

“Being able to pull on the Bristol colours just for a photo shoot was pretty exciting and I’m looking forward to getting out there, getting to know the guys and getting to play."

Steven Luatua

Luatua links up, once again, with Pat Lam, someone he first worked with at Auckland Blues as a fresh-faced youngster – and the 15-cap All Black says the head coach was a significant factor in his decision to make the move.

“I think Pat (Lam) was huge in my decision – being familiar with him and how he works on and off the field, that definitely helped my decision.

“The vision that Bristol Rugby has and how Pat wants you to be, not only a good rugby player but a good man off the field - that’s something that stuck with me as a kid coming through at the Blues and hopefully he can do the same here at Bristol.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge for both of us. From what I’ve seen in the structures and game plans and what he’s achieved over the past few years, he’s definitely grown as a coach and hopefully I’ve grown as well as a rugby player.

“I have a fantastic relationship with Pat (Lam) and I enjoyed working with him at the Blues. I’m looking forward to taking on a new challenge with Bristol and contributing to the long-term vision of the club.”

Steven Luatua in action for the All Blacks (Getty Images).

The 26-year-old’s move to the West Country was announced in February, prior to the Super Rugby campaign, but he signed off in style at the Blues, scooping Players’ Player of the Season and MVP at their end of season awards.

It was a fitting finale for Luatua, who was accompanied to the awards ceremony by his mother and expressed his gratitude to both the Blues and his family.

“I’m just really grateful to the Blues for having me for the last couple of years, so to pick up those awards was pretty special.

“To be recognised like that, especially as I took my mum to the awards, was amazing. She was a lot more teary-eyed than I was, but it’s a nice way of giving back to her as well – because as much as it was an achievement for myself, it was for my family as well.”

The Bristol Rugby faithful will be hoping Luatua’s award-winning form continues when the new season gets under way in September, as he prepares to kick-off the next chapter of his career at Ashton Gate.

By Will Carpenter.

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