Bristol Rugby show their class
LIAM Middleton praised his players' character and belief as they won in the Championship for the first time since mid-September with a 23-13 victory over high-flying Bedford.
Two tries from Luke Eves proved the difference as Bristol ended Bedford's unbeaten start to the season, limiting the free-scoring Blues to one try with a defensive display that was full of grit and steel.
Bristol came back from 10-6 down to build on their recent British & Irish Cup wins over Cardiff and Ulster Ravens by delivering their most impressive result and performance of the season so far.
Bristol had lost their previous three Championship matches, while Bedford had opened the season with seven wins and a draw from their eight games in all competitions.
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Yesterday's victory saw Bristol move up one place to eighth in the table, just three points behind the all-important fourth place.
"It's pleasing to get a win – four league points allow us to try to start chipping our way up this league table," said head coach Middleton.
"I thought today's game was a significant victory, because Bedford are a quality side and they showed that – they played well. We've come away with a good victory.
"A lot of people have been writing us off and doubting us, and I told the players in the huddle at the end that the only group of people who won't doubt us is ourselves.
"When we came out in the second half, I felt there was a sense of, 'we're not losing this today, we believe in ourselves'. That's a critical part for us – we've come through the mill a little bit in the last two months.
"We have to be a group of people with strong character if we want to progress, and the whole club has handled that recent scrutiny quite well.
"We always understand that there's huge expectation around Bristol – as a club we always have expectation. But I think we've handled that well, dealt with the pressure of today, which was a massive game, and we did everything required to win the game."
Bristol travel to third-placed Nottingham, 31-22 winners at Plymouth over the weekend, this Sunday, where the character and resilience they showed yesterday are sure to be tested again.
But Middleton, pictured, has seen enough from his team in the past two games to suggest they should be full of confidence going to Meadow Lane.
"Nottingham are a very good side, so we'll come up against it again next weekend," he said.
"But if we can handle Ulster and Bedford, and if we can put another five to ten per cent on our performance, then we can go there ready for the fight."
Bristol trailed 10-6 at half-time, following James Pritchard's try, but defended superbly in the second half against a team who had been averaging more than 42 points per Championship match.
"I think we made an error with their try, and it was a simple mistake in wet conditions," said Middleton.
"But, apart from that, I thought we could have locked them out, which is significant against a side like Bedford. Both sides tried to play in wet conditions and that was good to see. In the end, I thought we were probably the dominant side.
"There was a big work-rate from the forwards – and if you look at our defence in the last ten minutes it was incredible: people tackling, getting off the ground, tackling.
"The last ten minutes in defence was probably the most important part of the game for me, because had we slipped a try then, they were back in it. Bedford can score twice very quickly. But the defence there was incredible."