Former Manu Samoa captain Pat Lam says it’s easier to be a Pacific Island rugby player nowadays compared to when he was lacing up his boots.
The Bristol head coach made his international debut in Samoa’s famous 1991 Rugby World Cup victory over Wales and went on to play 34 tests in the back row.
He finished his playing career in England, turning out for Newcastle Falcons and Northampton Saints between 1998 and 2002, before turning his attention to coaching.
The 49-year-old said the advent of professionalism had made things a lot easier for today’s Samoa, Fiji and Tonga stars.
“I think it’s easier in the sense that they’re well looked after (by their clubs),” he said.
“I think a lot of them are on very good salaries, they’re able to look after their families.”
Lam has eight Samoan and Tongan internationals in his English Premiership squad and said he would never stand in the way of a player wanting to represent their country.
Prop Jordan Lay, lock Chris Vui, flanker Jack Lam, five eighth Tusi Pisi and midfield back Alapati Leiua all featured in Manu Samoa’s recent Rugby World Cup playoff victory over Germany, which finally confirmed their place at next year’s tournament in Japan.
Some clubs have historically made it difficult for Pacific Island players to represent their country but the former Blues and Connacht mentor Lam believes that is the wrong approach.
“If you’re a coach and you’re not there to help the player achieve his goals there’s something seriously wrong,” he said.
“So players will come in here (to Bristol) and they want to be the best they can and have the ultimate honour of playing for their country, playing at the World Cup.
“And we get just as much pride and satisfaction that these boys have come through our programme and they’re representing their country so we are very supportive of them and (when) each player gets that recognition it’s fantastic.”
Bristol will compete in the English top flight this season after winning promotion from the second tier Championship in which they won 21 of 22 games.
One of his objectives at the South West club was to have a strong core of English players, which meant any players from offshore must be the best of the best, Lam said.
“I made sure that if I’m bringing foreigners in they’ve got to be close to number one or two (in their position). They’ve got to be world class and they can help grow these younger English players coming through,” he said.
“And hence the reason (for signing) Steven Luatua, Charles Piutau, Siale Piutau, Ian Madigan, John Afoa. All of these guys are already having a massive impact with the local boys so when these guys come to head home those English boys will take over.”