Hard work pays off for Bristol Rugby with victory over Cornish Pirates
LIAM Middleton praised his players' work ethic and the impact of his bench after Bristol made it back-to-back victories with an impressive 29-17 home success over Cornish Pirates.
Pirates, who have never won a league game at the Memorial Stadium, led 17-16 with five minutes to go – only for Bristol to come to the fore in the closing minutes of the match.
Tristan Roberts came off the bench to kick the two penalties that put his side back in front, before replacement scrum-half Ruki Tipuna's brilliant solo run set up Matt Williams to score the try that sealed victory.
And head coach Middleton, whose team were beaten over two legs by Pirates in last season's Championship semi-final, felt his team had worked harder than their opponents when it really mattered.
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"We've got a tough training programme at Bristol – we pride ourselves on our work ethic and that's ultimately what won us the game," said Middleton.
"We worked harder than them in the last 10-15 minutes and our bench came on and made an impact. That's the game-management we need.
"We need guys who can last the 80, but also guys who can come on and add impetus to the game – and I thought that was very well reflected in today's game. It's important to have a bench to come on and make an impact – and I thought those guys did it perfectly.
"It's hard to measure character – but we were trailing by one point for a long time, having played probably the better rugby. Sometimes you can really lose your head in that time and think you can't kick on.
"But we've got good characters in the squad and they were very industrious. Look at our tight five: they worked unbelievably hard. What I liked most about the victory was the character and work ethic."
Middleton claims he does not look at the table until eight matches have been played – but his side are now fifth, having recovered impressively from their opening-day defeat to Newcastle at the Memorial Stadium with victories over Doncaster and Pirates.
But with yesterday's victory coming only three matches into the 22-game regular season, he played down the significance of the win.
"I actually haven't looked at the league table – and, as a bit of a tradition, I won't look at it until we've played eight games and then I'll know where we are," said Middleton. "We've just got to keep winning one game at a time.
"I think that even if we'd lost, I would have said the same thing: that we can't really read anything into it. But games against what you perceive to be the top four sides, if you can win those, you've got a chance of being near the top, so I think that is its significance."
After an injury-ravaged start to the campaign, Middleton was pleased to be able to report that no new injuries had been suffered yesterday, although he also said it was unlikely any of his long-term absentees would return this weekend at Leeds.
Centre Bryan Rennie and prop Jason Hobson could, however, come back into contention for the home match against Moseley on September 28.
Middleton also paid tribute to 36-year-old lock Roy Winters, who was making his 150th league appearance for Bristol.
"Roy is a good professional – and that's why he's played 150 league games and can still last 80 minutes," he said.
"He trains all week as well and that's a testimony to a very good professional and very good player. I was pleased for him to reach that landmark today and he will be significant for us again this year."