Bristol Rugby coach Liam Middleton delighted with another confidence-boosting cup success
LIAM Middleton was delighted with how his Bristol players backed up their victory at Cardiff with a win over Ulster Ravens – and feels confidence has been restored ahead of the Championship visit of Bedford next weekend.
Bristol, who have so often used the British & Irish Cup for experimentation, set out to win their first two games in this season's competition to rediscover some momentum after a dismal run of three straight league defeats.
And, after winning 23-14 in the Welsh capital eight days earlier, they ensured a 100 per cent winning start to Pool One with a 34-28 victory against Ulster Ravens at the Memorial Stadium yesterday.
Ulster's starting line-up contained a wealth of first-team experience, including Roger Wilson, who scored two tries, Robbie Diack and Neil McComb – and the Northern Irish province tested Bristol across the field.
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But the hosts, inspired by a gutsy display from No 8 Mitch Eadie and 19 points from Tristan Roberts, had enough to storm to the top of their pool after a restorative fortnight on the field.
"It's always good to back wins with wins," said head coach Middleton. "We probably haven't done a lot of that this season so far, whereas we did a fair bit of it last season, so that was an important win for us.
"Our philosophy this year with the cup is that it complements the league season. It's not above the league season, but it complements what we do – and two good wins in the cup, against two good sides, is really pleasing.
"The two results we've had will make things a bit easier going into the Bedford week. I think what we needed was just confidence – and even having a fuller squad training brings confidence.
"It's not just what's on the field, it's not just winning, it's having everyone out on the training field raring to go. I think the win, plus the return of a lot of players, will hopefully give us a good start to next week."
Bristol yesterday welcomed Jack Tovey, James Merriman, Redford Pennycook, Adrian Jarvis and Ross Johnston back from injury, but another returning player, Bryan Rennie, suffered a knee injury early in the match and had to be replaced.
His departure saw Tovey, who had been pencilled in for a 20-minute run-out following five months out with a back injury, thrown into the contest with only eight minutes on the clock.
But Middleton said: "We had only planned for Tovey to play 20 minutes at the end of the game, because he hasn't played for five months. It didn't work out that way, unfortunately, and we wouldn't do that in a Championship game, but with a cup game you can get some guys back from injury.
"It's a real blow for us with Bryan being injured again – he's had a torrid start to the season. I think he's done a bit of cartilage damage to his knee, so we're not having a lot of luck with our injuries – but at least a lot of good players are coming back into the side and we can now start to build on that."
Both the performance of George Watkins, making his first start of the season, and the return of Tovey – "a natural full-back" – pleased Middleton, who confirmed he is likely to be without Jon Goodridge (neck injury) for a further three months.
Middleton also praised Eadie and winger Ryan Edwards for taking their chances while some of their more experienced team-mates have been injured.
"The flip-side of our injury situation is that two of our star performers today were Ryan Edwards and Mitch Eadie – and they've almost emerged on the back of a big injury list," said Middleton. "Sometimes, you've got to look at the positives of a negative scenario, and what we now have to do is push on with those guys."