Bristol Rugby's Liam Middleton expects tougher test at Doncaster this time
LIAM Middleton has warned his Bristol players not to expect a repeat of their last, try-laden visit to Doncaster when they return to Castle Park this evening.
Bristol scored nine tries en route to a 65-3 drubbing of the Knights in the opening game of last season's Championship play-offs six months ago. As away venues go, there can be few grounds in the Championship that Middleton views with such fondness, having got his career as Bristol head coach off to a flying start with a 38-12 victory there on the opening day of last season.
But he is taking nothing for granted this evening, with both Bristol and Doncaster going in search of their first victories of the new season.
"We had two good victories up there last year," said Middleton, pictured. "But they are very physical at home and quite a dangerous side – we've looked at their footage and they certainly pose some questions in attack.
"They are playing a bit more of an expansive game this season, so our defence will have to be good, and I don't think it will look anything like the play-off game from last season – maybe more like the first league game of last season.
"Although we won that one quite convincingly in the end, it was quite tight for 60 minutes, and I expect it will probably be more like that this weekend."
Middleton is without 12 first-team players for this evening's game – but, despite his squad being ravaged by injuries, he is still able to call on quality reinforcements such as international duo Roy Winters and Bruce Douglas.
The former England lock and Scotland prop are among four changes Middleton makes to the side beaten 37-20 by Newcastle on the opening day of the season, five days ago.
They replace Glen Townson and Wayne Thompson, respectively, while Ben Glynn comes in for Mariano Sambucetti in the second row and Mitch Eadie for Marco Mama at No 8. The back-line that showed plenty of sparks of encouragement last weekend remains in tact, while centre Ben Mosses, signed on loan from Bath this week, is among the replacements.
Middleton remains buoyed by aspects of his team's performances in their defeat to Newcastle, who are the bookmakers' favourites for promotion to the Aviva Premiership.
"We have reviewed the game, and, although we didn't win, there was still a lot of positive work," he said.
"We look at the process – 'How did we play against Agen? How did we play against Narbonne? How did we play against Munster? And, each week, are we doing something better?'
"Clearly, in the Newcastle game, there were aspects of our game which were better than when we played against Munster. That's all we have to do – and the score will take care of itself.
"Our process has got to be good – and, at the weekend, there were certain aspects of our attack that made improvements. There were some minor things in our defence, which we reviewed after Munster, that showed in the game and reflected that improvement.
"There were also some areas we didn't do well but those were highlighted because of the quality of the Newcastle kicking game – and we've now been able to look at that and say 'we could have done that better', which is useful."
Bristol: J Goodridge; M Tagicakibau, J Gadd, L Eves, R Edwards; T Roberts, J Grindal; K Traynor, R Johnston, B Douglas, B Glynn, R Winters, I Grieve (capt), R Pennycook, M Eadie. Reps: R Lawrence, W Thompson, G Townson, J Merriman, R Tipuna, M Jones, B Mosses.