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Ex Players in the News... Bristol Challenge Cup Final
- Senior Boarder
- Praetorian Guard
In light of our connection with Bristol Rugby, a few pieces in advance of Challenge Cup Final tonight at 8pm...
Torygraph article about Jake Heenan,and general piece from Beeb...
Globetrotting Jake Heenan the heart and soul of the Bristol revolution
Friday's Challenge Cup final is a highpoint for the flanker who followed Pat Lam from New Zealand to Ireland and then on to the Bears
My conversation with Jake Heenan ahead of Bristol Bears’ Challenge Cup final against Toulon on Friday night is punctuated by barks by his dog Brodie, whom he adopted as a rescue puppy in Ireland while he was playing for Connacht.
The New Zealander’s spell with the Irish province was when he came of age as a player under now Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam, having made the move to the northern hemisphere as a 21-year-old.
Other Bristol Kiwis, including former All Blacks John Afoa, club captain Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau, are more recognisable names, but the openside flanker has had an intriguing journey, in rugby and in life.
Heenan, 28, first met Lam while trialling for the Auckland Blues academy, and it was the coach who first suggested that the young player move to No 7 – a position he has played ever since. When Lam took over the reins at Connacht in 2013, he got in touch with Heenan, who was out of contract but had shown his class when captaining New Zealand Under-20s at the 2012 Junior World Cup. He was lured by Lam to Bristol in 2018 having been an integral part of his Connacht side who won the then Pro12 in 2016.
As a result the pair have developed a deep understanding. “Now, with our relationship, there is a lot of trust there,” says Heenan, who will start from the bench this evening. “We don’t have too many rugby-related conversations and when we do they are very brief because I know what he expects as a coach from me as a player. On the flip side, he trusts me to get my work done.
“I have stayed with Pat as long as I have because I know we are going to play good rugby and be coached well and get opportunities to enjoy my rugby.”
Before becoming a professional Heenan had endured a rocky adolescence in Whangarei, New Zealand’s most northerly city. Despite having the support of his family he rebelled when his father remarried and this led to a period when he was briefly without a home. Rugby was what kept him focused.
“I lived in my car for a few weeks but I was living between friends’ houses. It is a tricky one because looking back on it, it is not a normal thing to do, but I had messed up a few times and that was the situation I was in,” he says. “My rugby was always an outlet for me as a young fella. I got into trouble with the police – it was nothing serious.
“I would be in my car outside the gym and I would brush my teeth and have a shower in there. It was a hairy situation but one I brought upon myself. But to have the rugby was so important. A lot of the things I was doing were very immature, young and boisterous things to do. A lot of the people I was fortunate to meet through rugby were like mentors and helped me to grow up.”
When he started at the Auckland academy, the first player he met was Luatua. Heenan says the players perceived as Bristol galacticos in fact set the tone for a grounded environment. “You look at the senior boys at our club Steven Luatua, John Afoa, Charles Piutau, Siale Piutau, Dave Atwood and then you have the young fellas like Callum Sheedy.
“You have these guys who are the best at what they do in the world and they are the nicest most diligent, hard-working, welcoming people at the club. That is where it starts. Pat often says, ‘Leadership is the problem but is also the answer’ and we are driven by the boys and it makes life a lot easier.”
For Heenan the chance to win silverware is one he is not taking lightly. “It is huge to be playing for Bristol in a final. I don’t have huge personal ambitions. I want to win trophies with teams and it so hard to do,” he says. “To be able to do that again would be just huge. If you are part of a team like Saracens or Leinster you probably don’t feel quite the same but for the rest of us it is a very special thing.”
European Challenge Cup final: Bristol Bears v Toulon
Date: Friday, 16 October Kick-off: 20:00 BST Venue: Stade Maurice David, Aix-en-Provence, France
Coverage: Listen live on BBC Radio Bristol, plus live text commentary on the BBC Sport website
Bristol Bears have been forced into a late change for Friday's European Challenge Cup final against Toulon.
Already without injured duo Charles Piutau and Nathan Hughes, captain Steven Luatua will also be absent as his partner is due to give birth.
The 20:00 BST kick-off in Aix-en-Provence will be the West Country club's first ever European final.
Kiwi back Piutau misses out with an Achilles problem while England number eight Hughes has injured his ribs.
Will Capon (ankle), Max Lahiff (calf), Andy Uren (foot) and Henry Purdy (hamstring) all miss out too.
Up to 1,000 fans will be allowed to attend Friday's final in Aix-en-Provence, as the English side bid for their first major silverware since 1983.
'It'll be our noisiest atmosphere for months'
Bears fly-half Callum Sheedy told BBC Radio Bristol: "If you'd said 1,000 people for a European final last year, you'd have laughed, you'd have said that's pathetic, but now, it'll be crazy.
"It'll be the noisiest atmosphere we've had in six, seven or eight months, so I'm really looking forward to it."
Director of rugby Pat Lam added: "That'll be exciting. It's pity our Bristol fans didn't get an opportunity for that but it'll help create the atmosphere and hopefully the Toulon drums come out.
"Having noise and atmosphere increased is good."
Toulon are aiming for their fourth European trophy and first in the Challenge Cup competition, having won the Champions Cup three times in a row between 2013 and 2015.
The French side also reached the Challenge Cup final in 2010 and 2012.
"For the last 10-15 years Toulon have been one of the biggest forces in Europe," Sheedy added. "They've got world-class internationals and strength all around the park, with a very heavy pack.
"We need to be on our game in all aspects. If we slip up in any area, they're good enough to punish us."
The match will be played on an artificial 4G pitch, on which Sheedy added: "I don't mind it personally. It's a fast track and we like to play a fast game.
"It's a cup final and I'm sure the lads won't mind their knees being a bit sore after it."
Toulon's starting XV includes Italy legend Sergio Parisse, who won this competition with Stade Francais in 2017, scoring a try in the final against Gloucester.
Bristol: Malins; Morahan, Radradra, S Piutau (capt), Leiua; Sheedy, Randall; Y Thomas, Thacker, Sinckler, Attwood, Joyce, Vui, D Thomas, Earl.
Replacements: Kloska, Woolmore, Afoa, Holmes, Heenan, Kessell, O'Conor, Adeolokun.
Toulon: Cordin; Heem, Toeava, Paia'aua, Villiere; Carbonel, Serin; Gros, Etrillard, Gigashvili, Etzebeth, Taofifenua, Ollivon, Lakafia, Parisse.
Replacements: Soury, Fresia, Setiano, Alainu'uese, Rebbadj, Ory, Takulua, Dakuwaqa.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)