Bristol Rugby head coach Liam Middleton excited over future
LIAM Middleton has taken huge encouragement from his first season as Bristol's head coach – and is confident the club will return to the Aviva Premiership "at the right time".
Bristol were beaten 63-53 over two legs of the Championship semi-final by Cornish Pirates, having led the way in the regular season and been the best-performing team in the play-off pool stage.
But Middleton, who took over from Paul Hull a year ago and helped Bristol jump from eighth to first in the Championship table, is relishing the opportunity to build on this year's improvement.
And one of Middleton's challenges over the next 12 months is to get Bristol into a position where they are not only ready for promotion but Premiership survival.
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"I will probably look at the season philosophically and say had we got promoted, we would play in the Premiership and that would be an enormous challenge," said Middleton.
"I think Bristol will return to the Premiership – but looking at it now, we will probably return at the right time. I've seen this role for me as building my part of the club over a three-year period – and you can't fast-track success. If you do, it's generally through luck – and luck ends up biting you at some stage.
"At the end of Sunday's game, I was massively disappointed and pretty cut-up about it, but now I'm bouncing back and pretty excited. We will reflect on this season, see what we can do better – and we will do it better next season."
During Middleton's first season in charge of Bristol, they won 21 and drew two of their 28 regular season and play-off pool games, before a 45-24 semi-final first-leg defeat in Cornwall left them needing a miracle in Sunday's second leg. They won 29-18 at the Memorial Stadium – but it was not enough to set up a date with London Welsh in the final.
Middleton, however, has been hugely encouraged by his team's performance across the season.
"I think we've grown throughout the season," he said. "At times we've overachieved, at times we've underachieved. But on the balance of it, I think it's been a very successful season if you look at the development of Bristol Rugby as a club."
The head coach is one year into a three-year contract – and added: "I feel that, in a three-year plan, we are where we should be, if not a couple of steps ahead, and that is exciting."
Bristol's players will now have four weeks off, before returning for pre-season training.
Bristol scrum-half Louis Silver is leaving the club to join Championship rivals Doncaster. The 21-year-old, who joined Bristol from Worcester a year ago, made only seven appearances for Middleton's side.
He was third in the scrum-half pecking order, behind Ruki Tipuna and Tom Slater, with James Grindal set to add further competition for the No 9 shirt when he arrives from Leicester ahead of the 2012-13 season.