Bristol Bears turned heads on Wednesday when they announced the signing of Fijian international Semi Radradra on a three-year contract from next season.
It is a huge statement from Bristol – one which shows their growing reputation and position within the Premiership’s hierarchy.
They may have to pay over the odds for him, but Radradra is one of the best centres in the world, so it’s an exciting move.
Radradra, who scored two tries in four World Cup appearances for Fiji, is an attacking player who will no doubt fit into what Bristol are trying to build under director of rugby Pat Lam.
Bristol head into this weekend’s round of fixtures top of the Premiership with three wins from four games.
They have started the season strongly as they try to shake off the tag of being the newly-promoted side. After finishing ninth last year that label has passed to Sunday’s opponents London Irish. Bristol are aiming to show that they are not just fighting for survival, but are ambitious to push on.
They have definitely maximised the opportunity presented by the World Cup, beating Bath, Sale and Exeter while the international stars have been away, but they are a competitive side.
Lam is a brilliant leader, an innovative and inspiring presence and an important part of their rise. The former Connacht coach sets up his side to be difficult to play against yet is also adventurous.
Bristol have everything in place to be a success. As well as Lam, the Bears play at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate and regularly attract big crowds of over 20,000 people, so the fanbase is there to build on.
The club’s foundations have been strengthened by the backing of their billionaire owner Steve Lansdown, who has put in place a calculated, effective and, some would say, aggressive strategy.
Having everything in place – owner, director of rugby, stadium and fanbase – is so important for long-term sustainability. You have to get those right first.
The off-the-field set-up is impressive and on the pitch Bristol are really shining now – and it’s that which really attracts a player of the calibre of Radradra.
Bristol have addressed their weaknesses, bringing in the experienced Nathan Hughes and Dave Attwood to bolster the forwards in the summer. And when you’ve got a player of the class of Charles Piutau at full-back there is always going to be excitement in the backline.
I think their recruitment has been clever, too, because signing players who are high-class but don’t play for their countries means you have an advantage when competitions like the Six Nations come around.
The ultimate question now is: can they sustain it? I’m sure Lam would say that they are exactly where he expected them to be at the end of November and that change in mindset – from fighting relegation to challenging for trophies – is an important one to make.
Bristol don’t have to play the percentages any more, and with a quality squad they can try to implement Lam’s philosophy and achieve the club’s ambitious goals.