Bristol Rugby head coach Liam Middleton delighted to finish 2012 in the top four
LIAM Middleton is delighted Bristol will end 2012 in the top four of the Championship – but the head coach was still able to find fault with yesterday's 26-18 win over Doncaster.
Bristol made it six wins in a row – four in the Championship – as they beat bottom-of-the-table Knights in front of a season's best crowd of 6,045 at the Memorial Stadium.
And while Bristol have turned their season around since being thrashed 63-7 at Nottingham last month, moving from eighth to fourth in the process, Middleton knows they can play much better than they did yesterday.
He also knows they will have to play better than they did if they are to beat Cornish Pirates at Mennaye Field on New Year's Day.
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"I'm delighted with the fact we're closing off 2012 in the top four, because five weeks ago it seemed like a distant goal," he said.
"But we believed in it, I knew we could achieve it and I knew we had the players to do it. If we now can start 2013 with a positive win, who knows what will happen in May 2013?"
On the game itself, which Bristol led 26-6 before shipping two late tries, Middleton said: "I think the positives for me are that it's another win, we got four points from it, our scrum was very strong and our defence – probably up to 60 minutes – was also really strong.
"But I think we should be suitably disappointed with our performance on the whole – our accuracy wasn't at the standard we've set ourselves. If we've got ambitions to push into the top three, we've got to raise our performance.
"I also said to the boys in the huddle that, if we want to beat Cornish Pirates away on New Year's Day, we're going to need to add 60-70 per cent to our performance.
"I'm chuffed with aspects of the match, but we've got to round our game off to really be strong contenders. We've got the ability; we've just got to pull it together with a little more maturity in some areas."
Middleton, who made six of his seven replacements between the 63rd and 66th minutes, felt his team had allowed Doncaster back into the contest – and said he would not have made so many changes had the game been tighter.
Asked if he was concerned by the way Doncaster finished the game, Middleton said: "I think we allowed that. Had the game been closer at 60 minutes, I probably wouldn't have made the substitutions I did – and the way the game pans out then is different. We probably allowed them into the game and they came close to getting a losing bonus point."
One plus for Bristol was the return of centre Fautua Otto. The Samoan had knee surgery in the summer and was expected to be out of action until the New Year – but he was introduced from the bench for the final 17 minutes of the game.
"We're just trying to integrate him slowly," said Middleton. "The fact he was running out on the field today is probably a triumph in itself.
"The severity of that injury is very often career-ending, so the fact he actually got out there and ran today is a great triumph for him."