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In-Depth: Tusi Pisi on drive, direction and a ‘special moment’

He is the eldest of three professional rugby playing brothers, but it was another Pisi who took the field alongside Bristol Rugby’s Tusi ahead of the dramatic victory over Ealing Trailfinders on October 1st.

With his father captaining the side for a second successive week, five-year-old Theron Pisi led the players out of the tunnel as a match day mascot – and Tusi admits it was ‘special’ to share the field, however briefly, with his son.

“We had explained to him (Theron) the night before that he was going to be holding his Uncle Chris’ (Vui) hand in the tunnel and not mine, but when Billy (Searle) took his hand he was looking back to see where Chris was,” Pisi chuckles.

“It was a pretty special moment for me, although when I walked past him in the tunnel, he looked at me as if to say: ‘oh Dad, why aren’t you holding my hand?’

“It was great and he really enjoyed it – Siale (Piutau) brought all of the kids down to the corner where we were warming up, so all I could hear was: ‘Dad, Dad, Dad,’ but it was great.

“I don’t know how interested he is in rugby, but he plays football on Saturdays at the Shine Academy and he loves being goalie – but the problem is, he won’t use his hands. I try to explain to him: ‘son, if you’re the goalie you can use your hands,’ but he saves everything with his feet.”

Tusi Pisi with his son, Theron and the match day mascot team ahead of the bonus-point victory over Ealing (JMP UK).

His father, on the contrary, has impressed with both his hands and his feet in recent weeks, while also leading his side to successive bonus-point wins. A man of the match display at Bedford was backed up with another assured performance against Ealing – and the Samoan says he is enjoying the responsibility assigned to him by head coach, Pat Lam.

“It’s been a privilege. The way I see it, being captain means you’ve got to lead with your actions,” he says.

“There are times when you’ve got to speak, but I prefer to do it with my rugby and get the team to follow. We’ve got some good people and good leaders out there, so I can go to them and make sure we’re all on the same page and getting our message across.

“That’s a luxury that we have with quality, experienced players in the team. I just oversee it, try and bring it together and make sure we’re on the same page. I think the leadership comes naturally when you’re in the 10 or 12 positions, where you’re driving the team around the paddock.

“So it’s just a case of making sure we’re all heading in the right direction and achieving what we need to from a game - that’s the challenge of having a ‘c’ next to your name.”

“It’s been a privilege. The way I see it, being captain means you’ve got to lead with your actions.”

Tusi Pisi

Pisi began his Bristol career at fly-half with an eye-catching display against Harlequins at Twickenham, but the 35-year-old has occupied the number 12 shirt in four of the five GKIPA Championship fixtures so far this season, flourishing as a play-making centre and an extra pair of hands – and eyes – in the wider channels.

“I think the way that Pat wants to play, it makes no difference whether you’re at 10 or 12,” says Pisi.

“At 12, you have pivotal role in organising and it also gives you a second pair of hands. It allows me to play in space a bit wider out and obviously and help that connection between the inside and the outside.

“Give credit where it’s due to the fly halfs, but we’ve also got some very good outside backs and the communication has been improving every week, so when we hear the call from outside, we’ve got to trust that and make sure we execute.”

Away from the action, the 35-year-old is one of a number of Bristol players currently working towards their RFU Level Two coaching award, with Pisi taking charge of the backline at Combination side, Cleve RFC.

A pre-season message from former teammate Chris Brooker was enough to convince him to get involved – and the 30-cap international admits it has given him a fresh outlook on the game.

Pisi in action against Hartpury at Ashton Gate on the opening day of the season (JMP UK).

“Chris Brooker, a past player here, messaged me and said they were looking for someone to help out with the backs,” he says.

“Chris is involved at Cleve and we get on quite well, so I was excited to be a part of it. Coaching is what I want to get into after rugby, but it’s also about giving back to the community at grassroots level and it puts things in perspective.

“You’re coming from a professional environment, to an environment where the players have got to finish work and they’re tired, but they still have that passion to play rugby. They’re so passionate about the game and it allows you to see rugby from two different levels.

“There are a lot of players that, with a little bit of help and guidance, can probably play at a higher level and that’s what is exciting. Talking with Siale (Piutau), who is coaching at Avonmouth, we have both seen the talent that is out there.”

As well as the Combination, the Samoan – who is in his second season with the club, having signed from Japanese side Sunwolves in 2016 – is also confident in the talent inside the Bristol Rugby dressing room, as they seek an instant return to the top flight.

Both Pisi and the rest of the squad are well aware of the challenges facing them this season, but says the atmosphere and togetherness in the group will stand them in good stead as the season progresses.

“It’s all about having a quality contingent at the club, which is what we have. So as long as everyone can fit into the systems and get along, which we do, that’s the main thing – it doesn’t really matter who it is.

“We’ve seen already the sort of challenges we will face this season, but we’re confident that if we work hard, we can reap the rewards.”