Bristol boss Pat Lam has played down the significance of his side’s table-topping clash with Gallagher Premiership leaders Exeter at Ashton Gate.
The second-placed Bears are eight points behind the Chiefs with seven rounds of the regular season remaining and many observers view Tuesday’s behind-closed-doors clash as a dress rehearsal for the Premiership final on October 24.
“As far as we’re concerned it’s just another game where five points are available as we all scramble to try and get into that top four for the play-offs,” director of rugby Lam said at his pre-match press conference.
This is how the #GallagherPrem table looks after Round 15 📊
Which team had the best weekend? pic.twitter.com/B2FRLCjkYW
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) August 23, 2020
“I’ve been in this game a long time as a player and a coach to not take much notice outside this environment of what people are saying, whether that’s extremely positive or extremely negative.
“They’ve been very successful over these years, but for us the only way we compete with that is to be a team ourselves and get our jobs right.
“It makes it interesting for people when they look at these fixtures, but for us involved in it it’s about getting our jobs done to the best of our ability.”
Both teams have been impressive since rugby’s post-lockdown period following the coronavirus pandemic and boast 100 per cent records.
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) August 24, 2020
Exeter have beaten Leicester and Sale and Bristol have overcome Saracens and Gloucester.
And Lam admits he is an admirer of the culture that Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter has fostered during his 11-year reign at Sandy Park.
“They’ve done well (since the restart) but that’s what you expect,” he said.
“They are a team that’s well established and have led the way with the absolute clarity they want to play.
“That’s what we aspire to, not necessarily the way we want to play the game but certainly as far as clarity and culture is concerned.
“That’s what we’re growing at the Bears, how you play your part and what value you can add to us as an organisation whether you’re a player or staff member.”
The congested nature of the Premiership run-in – the necessity for midweek fixtures means Bristol and Exeter have three games in the space of just over a week – has resulted in both sides ringing the changes.
Exeter show 14 changes from their Sale success on Friday, with only wing Olly Woodburn remaining, while Bristol make nine alterations after claiming a seventh successive Premiership victory at Gloucester.
But Lam has dismissed the school of thought that the order of fixtures should have been changed to prevent the clash between first and second falling in a midweek slot.
“The big thing here is that Covid has changed everything,” Lam said.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) August 24, 2020
“The way I look at it is there was no plan to be playing this season at this time of the year.
“There was no plan to play midweek games. I just think it’s fantastic that we’re back playing rugby and we have to squeeze all these games in.
“I said to the boys even before the team selection came in that whoever Rob picks will be required to go out and play the Exeter way.
“You’re playing against a culture and style of rugby, and the moment you look at playing individuals you come unstuck.”