Bristol Rugby coach Liam Middleton keeping an eye on next season, but play-offs are priority
LIAM Middleton has been working overtime as he looks to add to Bristol's squad for next season – but the head coach's focus is firmly on the here and now.
Middleton last week confirmed that five more of his existing squad members had signed new terms for next season, following earlier announcements that Iain Grieve, Jason Hobson, Jack Tovey and Middleton himself had recommitted to the club.
And while the Bristol boss continues to search for new talent to bolster his squad for the 2012-13 campaign, he said negotiating the Championship play-offs – which kick off at Doncaster on Friday, March 9 – must remain the club's top priority.
Middleton is also looking to tie up contracts with those of his existing players he wants to keep, so uncertainty does not become a factor during the play-offs. And, with so many different aspects of management to juggle, Middleton said this was the busiest time of the season for him and his staff.
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"We're always having a look at what's out there and players who want to join and add strength to our squad – but at the moment we're focusing on the current group," he said.
"The recruitment period is probably the hardest of the season and, unfortunately, it falls in the most important part of the season.
"It's a lot of late-night work, because you've got to put it in – we've put a big emphasis on making the right decisions about who is in the squad.
"We've put an emphasis on a very thorough process in recruitment and that takes a long time. At the same time, the real challenges are on the field and pretty imminent and we have to keep our eye on that, too."
Bristol are without a game this weekend, but will open their play-off programme – as they did their regular-season campaign – at Doncaster Knights' Castle Park. The game will kick off at 7.45pm on March 9.
They will then host London Welsh on the weekend of March 16-18, before a double header against Nottingham (away on March 23-25, home on March 30-April 1). Bristol then travel to London Welsh over the weekend of April 13-15, before bringing their pool campaign to a close at home to Doncaster on Saturday, April 21 (3pm).
And Middleton, whose team ended their regular season with a 52-26 win over Doncaster on Friday, knows his team cannot waste too many opportunities once the play-off start.
Asked whether Bristol would adopt a win-at-all-costs mentality – or continue to try to play an exciting brand of rugby – Middleton said: "It's a bit of both. We know what wins for us – and that's playing the right kind of rugby – so I suppose the two are interlinked.
"In the (recent defeats against) London Welsh and Pirates games, when we didn't play the right kind of rugby, we ended up losing, so we have to play the right type of rugby – and that will lead us to win.
"But there are no second chances in the play-offs. In the league season, you can drop a game or have a bad training week and play badly and pick up from it the week after. But in the play-offs, there are not many chances for a second opportunity."