Bristol Rugby coach Liam Middleton wary of Plymouth's attacking threat
LIAM Middleton has told his Bristol players to expect a much different Plymouth team this weekend to the forward-dominated Albion sides of old.
The Devonians made a name for themselves as a physically uncompromising, forward-based team under former chairman of rugby Graham Dawe.
But since his departure from the club, new director of rugby Nat Saumi has placed a greater emphasis on attack and an all-round game, which has paid early dividends.
Plymouth, who would have been among the pre-season favourites to become embroiled in a relegation scrap, are fifth in the table after nine games and have won plaudits for their ambitious style of play.
Bristol head coach Middleton, whose side visit Brickfields on Saturday, said: "I think what has been part of Plymouth's success is that they have done a complete U-turn from the rugby they've played traditionally.
"What Nat has done is flip it on its head and play a completely different game – and I think, because it's such a significant change from what was being done previously, the players have really taken to it with enthusiasm.
"They've also got some quality performers – Paul Bailey signed there from France a couple of years ago, Rupeni Nasiga played for Fiji at the World Cup and Aaron Carpenter captains Canada. They have got capped internationals in their side.
"I think sometimes people look at Plymouth and think that they probably won't have good players – but they have some seasoned international performers. Combine that with a free-flowing, exciting style of rugby and they have had some success."
Middleton also believes Albion have acquired a number of talented young players who are making a difference.
Exeter trio Henry Slade and brothers Tom and Luke Cowan-Dickie, plus former Bath fly-half Paul Roberts, have been making an impact at Brickfields.
"I've picked out Nasiga, Carpenter and Bailey, but they also have the Cowan-Dickies from Exeter Chiefs, Henry Slade is an (England) Under-20s player and Paul Roberts has gone there from Bath," said Middleton.
"They've got quality individuals. Perhaps in the past, people have thought of two things when they have thought of Plymouth: their conservative style and that they haven't had the greatest quality of players.
"But they've got those quality players now – there are six or seven players in that squad who are first-choice Championship players, top-class Championship players.
"Combine that with their new style and they're a threat to any team."
Bristol were 39-16 winners against Jersey in their last match, ten days ago, and with no fixture last weekend, Middleton was able to give his players a mental and physical rest.
"The guys worked hard in the pre-season and they have worked hard up to this point, so we felt that we could reward them with a physical and mental break," said Middleton.
"They didn't have all the week off, but they have five straight days, and I think it came at a good time for us, just to refresh mentally and physically."