Bristol Rugby coach Liam Middleton plans to hot up competition for places ahead of semi-finals
LIAM Middleton will make changes to his Bristol team for Saturday's Championship pool finale against Doncaster – after admitting complacency may have crept into the ranks.
The head coach has largely stuck with the same players during Bristol's five play-off matches – but, with semi-final qualification already assured, he will use Saturday's game to tinker with areas of his team.
Hooker Ross Johnston is ruled out with a head injury, so Rhys Lawrence – a spectator during the play-offs so far – is likely to get some minutes on the field.
Prop Jason Hobson misses out through suspension, while Middleton is expected to rest some of those who have carried a heavy workload during the regular season and play-offs.
Bridal hand tied bouquet (Roses)
2 Bridesmaids (Roses)
Groom & Best Man button holes (Roses)
Discounted rates apply to larger Bridal party requests.
Not to be used with any other offer.
Contact: 0117 2448228
Valid until: Tuesday, December 31 2013
"We will make some changes." said Middleton. "I think there needs to be some competition back in the group.
"We've been very consistent in selection throughout the play-offs – but I feel that there may be some complacency there.
"I want to bring in a couple of new guys to say: 'I want to play in the semi-final' – and if they play well, I will pick them for the semi-final. I don't hold loyalties to players in terms of what they have done in the past – they need to play well in every game, because in the semi-final there is no tomorrow, it's about winning the game."
Bristol were 26-20 winners at London Welsh on Sunday – a result that saw them leapfrog their opponents and regain top spot in Pool A.
And, having secured their spot in the last four, Middleton now wants his players to treat Saturday's clash with Doncaster – who are bottom of the pool, with one point from their five games – as if it were a semi-final match.
"We've got to start well, get off the mark and set our stall out – and that will be the same for the semi-final, where we'll have to start fast and get a lead," he said. "If you're chasing the game, it's not where you want to be.
"There is a tricky balance this weekend, because at this stage of the season guys have played a lot rugby and you want to give them an opportunity to get some rest – mental as well as physical.
"But you also want to try to keep some momentum ahead of the semi-final. We've looked at what is the more important thing and maybe giving some guys who have played a lot of rugby a rest will be better.
"But there are players coming into the team and the 22 who will be desperate to earn a shirt for the semi-final."
Middleton could recall the fit-again James Merriman, but fellow flanker Marco Mama is still troubled by a calf injury.
One area where there will definitely be change is at hooker, with Johnston – a hat-trick hero in Bristol's 65-3 win at Doncaster earlier in the play-offs – ruled out with a head injury. Jason Harris-Wright and Lawrence are battling for the No 2 shirt.
"Rhys is a guy who can really put his hand up for selection and put some pressure on Ross," said Middleton. "Rhys is definitely good enough to start for us and he has for a good amount of games this season. I would expect him to play pretty well this weekend.
"There are a couple of places where there is nothing between the players – and if Rhys comes out and plays well and plays better than Ross did in the last game, he should have the shirt."