Bristol Rugby head coach Liam Middleton still confident of a top-four finish
LIAM Middleton remains confident Bristol can secure a top-four Championship finish, despite criticising his players' "inaccurate and ill-disciplined" performance in yesterday's 32-17 defeat at Cornish Pirates.
Pirates scored four tries to grab a bonus point as they ended Bristol's six-match winning run, extended their visitors' Mennaye Field misery and leapfrogged them into fourth position.
Bristol are now two points outside the play-off places with nine league matches to go – but head coach Middleton continues to believe his players have what it takes to make the top four.
"We've got to pick the pieces up and push on to the next game," said Middleton. "I still remain hugely optimistic about our chances of making the top four – and then posing a real threat to whoever plays against us.
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"But it is very much one step at a time. I just said to the players that a top-four place is going to have to be something we qualify for one week at a time.
"I don't think we've lost any momentum or confidence here – we've got to pick ourselves up. Our battle for a play-off place is going to go on throughout the season."
Bristol have now lost five games in a row at the Mennaye and have not won in Penzance since 2004.
And they were not helped yesterday by falling 13-0 down inside the opening 23 minutes – and going in 18-3 adrift after a poor first-half display.
Middleton said: "We had a very inaccurate start to our game and it perpetuated itself through the first half. In the second half, we were a lot better, a lot more accurate with our ball.
"But on the whole, the best I can describe it is as an inaccurate, ill-disciplined performance from us. We were good enough to win, we had enough determination to win, but we were inaccurate and ill-disciplined.
"If you look at the game, all the ill-discipline and all the inaccuracy led to their points – and when you come to Cornish Pirates on New Year's Day, with their biggest crowd, you have to be very disciplined and very accurate. Today, we weren't.
"I think there was a real quiet focus among the group, and I felt mentally they were in the right place.
"It's just one of those days – all-round we played some poor rugby and that ill-discipline and inaccuracy makes you an easy side to beat.
"But that doesn't mean that suddenly we're not good enough for the top four – we are. I've said to the players that we're good enough, but today we weren't.
"We've got to make sure we are in our next game."
Pirates had already scored three tries to Bristol's two when centre Tom Riley burst over in stoppage-time to score a fourth and seal a bonus point.
Middleton admitted: "That was a kick in the teeth at the end. We just didn't control the game – and when you don't grab control of the game it can run away from you like that."
Bristol had Jason Hobson, who recently appealed against a 12-week ban for biting, yellow-carded for a push – and the head coach admitted losing his tighthead prop for ten minutes stemmed his team's momentum. "Momentum was running with us and that halted our momentum," he said.