Injury problems given an opportunity for others to shine, says Bristol Rugby's Liam Middleton
LIAM Middleton is hoping he will soon be able to look back on Bristol's injury crisis as a positive part of the club's season.
The head coach takes a squad missing ten injured players – Jack Tovey, George Watkins, David McIlwaine, Fautua Otto, Matt Williams, Bryan Rennie, Adrian Jarvis, Jason Hobson, George Biagi and Marco Mama – to Doncaster tomorrow.
He is also without overseas recruits Gaston Cortes and Alafoti Faosiliva, who continue to wait for the documentation that will allow them to play, live and work in this country.
But the head coach expects to learn plenty about those players who are available in the coming weeks, with only McIlwaine and Mama from his 12 absentees likely to return within the next month.
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"It brings us into some challenging weeks," said Middleton. "The next five weeks or so are going to be pretty challenging – but it's ideal, because we get to know about individuals, we get to know about our team and we have to push ourselves a little harder. I don't think that's a bad thing.
"We will probably look back on this in February or March and think it was quite good for us.
"Some of the younger guys, such as Jack Gadd and Ryan Edwards, are certainly going to get a run of games – and they've acquitted themselves well so far.
"Sometimes it's hard for a young player to find their opportunity; sometimes they find their opportunity and then don't get another one for a while – but they are now in for a bit of a run. They've got to step up to the plate and it's an ideal opportunity for them."
Middleton defended his team's injury record, claiming "there is no pattern or theme to it" – and he believes the fact he is without seven backs is intensifying the issue.
"Losing Mama and McIlwaine for this week adds to our injury toll – but our injury stats will show that we probably lose two per game, which is well under the average," said Middleton.
"You can look at our pocket of injuries and ask, 'What's going on there?' But we are still averaging under the general average for injuries per game.
"Every week you will pick up a couple of knocks, but no one will return for another four to five weeks, so we are where we are.
"There's no pattern or theme to it, and the two injuries we picked up at the weekend were head injuries – and that comes from an impact game and those are unfortunate. But those are only seven-day turnarounds and the guys will be back next week.
"We've looked at it in detail to try to see where the patterns are, but, ultimately, you get these periods. It's made worse by the fact that there are quite a lot in one position, which is usually the case for some reason."
Bristol were beaten 37-20 by Newcastle on the opening weekend of the Championship season, while Doncaster fell to a surprise 27-22 defeat at Plymouth Albion.