Bristol Rugby: Liam Middleton wants crushing win over Doncaster
LIAM Middleton is demanding a crushing victory from his Bristol players today – so they finish with the best record in the Championship play-off pools.
The team finishing with the most points across both promotion pools earns the right to choose whether they play at home or away in the first leg should they reach the final.
And Middleton, whose team have 20 points to Pool B leaders Bedford's 19, has urged his players to finish the job after last weekend's key win at London Welsh.
A bonus-point victory over Doncaster at the Memorial Stadium today would secure Bristol's status as the top team in the play-off pool stage – and that is exactly what the head coach wants from his team.
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Middleton, pictured, has made eight changes to the side that won 26-20 at Old Deer Park for his team's meeting with a side they beat 65-3 away from home in their opening play-off game. And he said: "We need to finish the pool on a high – and we've set a goal of being the best-performing side in the pool stage.
"We're banking on Bedford having a bonus-point win at home against Rotherham, which means we need a bonus-point win of our own, which is not going to be easy.
"Although we beat them by 62 points, that's probably not a reflection of how good Doncaster are.
"They scored four tries at London Welsh – which is more than we scored – so they are a good side.
"But I think it's a good fixture for us. We know we are through now and we can use this game to polish some aspects of our game and make sure we bring a positive style. And setting the goal of a bonus-point is very ambitious against the side that they are.
"But we have to do that to be the best-performing team, because, should we progress out of the semi-finals, we would have the option of playing home or away – and that's a big prize. This weekend is about ensuring we get that option to help ourselves later on in the competition."
Middleton will hand Jon Goodridge, George Watkins, Tom Slater, Mark Lilley, Jason Harris-Wright, Wayne Thompson, Ben Glynn and James Merriman chances to impress this afternoon after they missed out last weekend.
And those who start, along with a bench featuring Rhys Lawrence, Mariano Sambucetti and Redford Pennycook, will be charged with ensuring Bristol maintain a high level of intensity from start to finish.
"At one point last weekend, we had a 17-point lead – and you can't give that up as we did," said Middleton.
"You might slip three points somewhere but you can't give up that sort of lead – and I've made that pretty clear to the players.
"You can't afford to give up a lead, particularly going into the semi-finals, where the aggregate score wins the game. You can win the first game, lose the second one and lose the whole thing, so it's important to protect leads and I think we've addressed that now.
"It's about putting 80 minutes of rugby together and I think the only complete 80 minutes we've put together was away at Doncaster."
Bristol: J Goodridge; G Watkins, F Otto, L Eves, W Helu; M Jones, T Slater; M Lilley, J Harris-Wright, W Thompson, B Glynn, G Townson, I Grieve (capt), J Merriman, D Montagu. Reps: R Lawrence, W Davis, M Sambucetti, H Vanderglas, R Pennycook, L Silver, M James.
Doncaster: M Keating; D Flockhart, F Burdon, P Gidlow, B Toft; G Quinn-McDonogh, M Heaney; T Davies, J Yeandle, T Francis, D Parsons, D Smith, M Challinor (capt), Z Farivarz, C Planchant. Reps: A Brown, S Boden, A Brown, A Kettle, D Bradford, L Makaafi, T Berridge.