Bristol Rugby: We're peaking at the right time, says Liam Middleton
LIAM Middleton is confident his Bristol players are finding form at the right time after they finished top of their Championship play-off pool to set up a semi-final showdown with Cornish Pirates.
Bristol secured the bonus-point win they needed over Doncaster to guarantee the best pool record of all the semi-finalists – which will allow them to choose whether they play their second-leg match in the final at home or away, should they get that far.
A much-changed Bristol side scored five tries en route to beating Doncaster 39-10 at the Memorial Stadium – as they followed up their 26-20 win at London Welsh with another impressive display.
And head coach Middleton, whose side travel to Penzance on Monday, May 7, before hosting the Pirates on Sunday, May 13, is delighted with how his players seem to be coming into form at the right time.
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"It's a real balancing act – peaking at the right time is a very tricky thing, because it's a multi-faceted process," said Middleton. "But I think we're playing good rugby at the moment – there's a lot of self-belief in this group of players. We just need to keep that going for the next couple of weeks.
"I think we're still evolving as a team – I don't think we're anywhere near perfection. I don't think we were accurate enough in the middle third of the field, for example. We made good decisions, but we didn't execute them with accuracy.
"But I'm not looking for the perfect performance yet, although I will be in the next few weeks – and that's why we need to work on certain areas next week.
"I was very pleased with what we did out there. I said to the guys in the huddle that there are probably two areas of the game that I really want to work hard on next week that I didn't think we did particularly well.
"But you've got to remember that we're striving for excellence – and when you do that, you always find areas to improve. Next week, without a game, we'll work hard on certain aspects of our game."
Bristol were 37-33 winners over Pirates at the Memorial Stadium in November, before going down 18-17 at the Mennaye Field in February.
And Middleton expects two more close encounters in the semi-final.
"I think they're a very difficult team to beat and I give them full respect," he said. "They've got a good balance of power and pace and they'll be a handful, both down at Mennaye and up here. We will show them the right respect by training very hard over the next two weeks.
"I'm really pleased with the guys. We set them a big challenge to score four tries, which is not easy against a good side. We've got to remember that Doncaster have pushed quite a few sides very close during the season and I thought we played really positive rugby."
Four Bristol players – prop Mark Irish, lock Roy Winters, flanker James Merriman and winger Jack Tovey – have been selected in the Championship Dream XV for the 2011-12 season.
The Championship Dream XV is picked by the coaching teams of all 12 clubs in the division, which coaches unable to vote for players from their own clubs.