Pat Lam is ready for “finals rugby” when he takes his Bristol team to Galway on Sunday.
The Heineken Champions Cup’s four-game pool phase reaches its halfway point this weekend, and both Bristol and their opponents Connacht have yet to win.
“For us and Connacht, and all the teams that lost in the first round, it’s all on the line this week,” Bristol rugby director Lam said.
“It is finals rugby already. You are not guaranteed if you win, but you certainly give yourselves a chance.
“We have made it difficult to get through, but it doesn’t mean you stop trying, because in rugby and sport you never know what is around the corner.
“It’s about growing your ability to handle the pressure as individuals, but also as a team, being able to do things under pressure and when you need to do them.”
Bristol are boosted by the return from injury of their captain Steven Luatua, who makes his first appearance this season.
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) December 18, 2020
Two other changes up-front see starts for prop Kyle Sinckler and lock Dave Attwood, while rugby league recruit Siva Naulago gains a full Bristol debut on the wing.
Connacht went close against last season’s Champions Cup runners-up Racing 92 in Paris six days ago, losing 26-22, and Lam added: “Their performance against Racing didn’t surprise me.
“They are gutsy and never take a backward step. It’s going to require a collective effort from us for 80 minutes – it is a tough challenge.”
Racing head to London on Sunday, where they meet a Harlequins side aiming for a quick recovery after being beaten 21-7 by Munster last time out.
Quins boss Paul Gustard has made two changes, calling up Tom Lawday at blindside flanker and restoring Joe Marchant to the midfield for his first start this season.
“The group remains confident, and I am delighted with the growth of our team with their reflection and appetite to improve,” Gustard told Quins’ official website.
“We know we must do that in order to overcome a formidable Racing 92 team who have been finalists in this competition twice in the last three years.
“They have a litany of international talent who are in form. They are one of the most dangerous teams in the competition.”
Sunday’s action in the European Challenge Cup sees London Irish and Cardiff Blues looking to maintain their unbeaten records in this season’s tournament, with Irish hosting Pau and the Blues entertaining Stade Francais.