Bristol Bears director of rugby Pat Lam has described the Heineken Champions Cup as the “ultimate” in club rugby and added that the competition has influenced his coaching since returning to the Northern Hemisphere.

The 51-year-old played for Northampton Saints and Newcastle Falcons before returning to coach Connacht Rugby in the competition, something he admitted had always been his ambition. 

“I didn’t really know much about the European Cup till I came over here in 1997 when I was playing for Newcastle in the Championship so we were trying to get promoted,” Lam said. 

“We got promoted but the boycott happened and I ended up at Northampton after that and we soon realised that this is the ultimate and that it’s the closest thing in club rugby to Test rugby. 

You are playing teams you don’t normally face and it’s probably influenced me in my coaching because when I came back to the Northern Hemisphere with Connacht, the ambition was about being the best Irish team but my eyes were set on the Champions Cup.”

Lam also added that featuring in Europe’s elite club competition is something that is part of his vision for the Ashton Gate club. 

“We set out as part of our vision that we wanted to be a Heineken Champions Cup team and then when I came to Bristol it was the same thing,” he added. 

“There was talk about just getting into the Premiership but I said no. It was the wrong thinking – I wanted the club to be a Champions Cup side. 

“That’s the ambition and the realistic goal we set and everything we do daily and the standards we set are geared towards that because it is the ultimate competition to win. 

Listen to Pat Lam and many more on the Heineken Champions Cup Rewind Special next week on ChampionsCupRugby.com.