Johann van Graan (left) and Pat Lam
Johann van Graan (left) and Pat Lam will want to ensure Bath and Bristol enjoy more success than last season

Johann van Graan hopes to give Bath a fresh start when the Premiership season begins with his new side facing Bristol at Ashton Gate on Friday.

Bath finished bottom of the table last season for the first time and brought the 42-year-old South African in from Munster as head of rugby.

“Friday is the start of our journey,” Van Graan told BBC Radio Bristol.

“It’s a new start for us but it won’t be perfect from the off. We need to make a start and see where we’re at.

“We’re desperate to improve. We’ve spoken about having pride in the club and pride in each other, and the only way to have that is to improve on the pitch.”

He has selected four debutants including Piers Francis, who joined from Northampton, at centre, with scrum-half Ben Spencer appointed captain for the season after England lock Charlie Ewels’ knee injury.

“Ben’s got that hunger and desire to succeed,” said Van Graan. “There is alignment between us in how we want to play the game and where we want to take the club.”

His opposite number, Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam, is clear on the qualities Van Graan will install at Bath.

“Physical, direct, discipline and well-coached,” he said. “He’s got a lot of experience.”

Bears want to ‘bring certainty’ to their game

Lam also has a rebuilding job to begin, after his side slumped from top of the table in 2021 to 10th last season.

“You don’t have to talk about intensity or physicality when you’re playing a derby,” he said. “The game takes care of itself.

“It’s about ensuring we have clarity of what we want to do.”

Lam is able to select two England props, with Kyle Sinckler set to play his first game since April after suffering a back injury that kept him out of England’s tour to Australia.

Ellis Genge did tour but has been given special dispensation to play – and make a return for his hometown club – having left champions Leicester, where he was captain.

Lam said the players that had joined his squad, including fly-half AJ McGinty from Sale, have made an immediate difference.

“They’ve brought an increase in energy and excitement and it’s raised standards for the guys. I’ve seen real improvement.

“Part of it may be the new guys but there’s also a lot of determination to improve on last season.

“The fans were so disappointed and everyone is wondering what we’re going to be like this time. We want to bring some certainty to our game.”

Bristol have reached two semi-finals since they returned to the Premiership in 2018, losing at Wasps in 2020 and at home to Harlequins the following season.

“We know what it takes to get in the top four,” said Lam. “We understand we need to bring that consistency every week.”

Lam will hope his side maintain their recent record against Bath at Ashton Gate, having beaten them in each of the four meetings there since their promotion.

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