Bristol Rugby: "It'll be tough, but we can make the top four" - Marco
MARCO Mama has acknowledged Bristol are in "a tough battle" to qualify for the Championship play-offs – but is confident they have a good enough squad to get there.
Bristol suffered a setback when they were beaten 32-17 by Cornish Pirates at the Mennaye Field on New Year's Day, with the Cornishmen rubbing salt into the visitors' wounds by snatching a last-minute bonus point.
That turned an eight-point deficit into one of 15 points and denied Bristol a late opportunity to get within striking distance of a losing bonus point.
Liam Middleton's side are now in fifth place, two points adrift of Pirates, while Leeds are in sixth, level on points with Bristol and with Sunday's home clash against Plymouth in hand.
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With nine league matches to go – including trips to leaders Newcastle and second-placed Bedford – Bristol have plenty of work to do.
"It's tough when you put in so much during the week and then go and produce a performance like we did against Pirates," said Mama.
"But we're going to have to focus on the cup game in Ulster now and then wait until Leeds come to the Memorial Stadium (on January 25) to put things right in the league.
"It's going to be a really tough battle now to reach the top four, but with the squad we've got, I'm confident we can bounce back from a loss like this.
"We've got a very talented squad, and from (numbers) 1 to 15 there's some very serious competition. There are a lot of players who are on the bench who are dying to be on the pitch and there are players who aren't in the match-day 22 who are also dying to be on the pitch.
"When you've got a great squad like that, you're always going to come back fighting."
Bristol do not play again until January 11, when they travel to Belfast to face Ulster Ravens in a make-or-break British & Irish Cup clash. Victory will almost certainly guarantee Bristol a quarter-final place with one pool match to play, while defeat will send the Northern Irish province to the brink of the last eight.
But despite the margins being so close in both competitions, back-row man Mama, who scored Bristol's second try at Pirates on Tuesday, is confident his side can enjoy a prosperous New Year.
"We've got a lot ahead of us in 2013," said the 21-year-old. "We're still in the cup and we've got a big challenge to make that quarter-final when we go to Belfast on January 11.
"We've got lots of big games coming up, with Leeds in the Championship on the horizon as well, but we're going to have to focus on each one individually and really put the emphasis on that."
Summing up the defeat in Cornwall, Mama felt the opening period of the game – in which Bristol fell 13-0 down inside 23 minutes – ultimately cost them a shot at victory.
"When you're down 13-0 in the first 20 minutes or so, it's always going to be a bit of a mountain to climb," he said.
"It's just a bit of a shame we couldn't bring more in those first ten to 15 minutes.
"In the second half, we were pushing for the points, but it didn't quite happen."