Ross Johnston's hat-trick is forgotten as Bristol search for first victory
SUCH is the ever-changing nature of professional rugby that Ross Johnston has not been allowed to re-live the hat-trick he scored at Doncaster six months ago – not even for research purposes.
The Welsh hooker grabbed the only treble of his career in Bristol's 65-3 win at Castle Park in the opening game of their Championship play-off campaign in March.
But with the playing personnel at both clubs being tweaked and changed over the summer, Bristol head coach Liam Middleton is not relying on that match to provide any pointers ahead of this evening's clash in Yorkshire.
"That game is so far away – so much has gone on between then and now that we probably won't even mention it," said Middleton, pictured.
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"I don't think even the players who were a part of that are thinking that far back."
That may be true for the majority of those in the Bristol side – but for Johnston it is with a degree of reluctance that he has had to forget about that Friday night match when he managed to find himself in the right place at the right time on three occasions.
"That game is completely in the past – we've got a slightly different squad, as have Doncaster," said Johnston.
"That game was just one of those where everything clicked for us, so it was then disappointing not to kick on from there.
"But that's in the past now and we're looking forward. I try not to, though! But the boys are trying to make me let it go now, while I'm trying to hang on to my hat-trick!
"That is the only hat-trick I've ever scored – and it's the only hat-trick I'm ever likely to score as well! It was down to the good work of the forwards and I was just lucky to be on the end of it."
Bristol opened their Championship season with a 37-20 home defeat against Newcastle, although both Middleton and Johnston found plenty of signs of encouragement within the display.
And, despite Bristol putting 194 points on Doncaster in four meetings last season – an average of 48.5 per game – nothing is being left to chance this time.
"To be honest, if we score three tries on Friday, I'll be happy," said Johnston. "Last season we did very well against Doncaster, but, before that, we were a bit shaky up there and didn't have a great record.
"Doncaster are a physical side, so we know it's going to be a tough encounter and we know what we're going to come up against.
"The boys are going to have to front up again, and, if we can build on the performance from last week, hopefully the result will take care of itself.
"There were some good things that happened against Newcastle and we just want to build on that week on week. We'll be looking to build on the performance – and, if the performance is there, the win will hopefully come with it.
"We just want to get better and better gradually as the season goes on – that's what we're focusing on."
Johnston and Bristol also trying to focus on the tricky balancing act that is gaining enough points to finish inside the top four and then peaking at the right time in the play-offs.
"It's a hell of a long season and it's very important to peak at the right times and build slowly into that," said Johnston.
"But, saying that, the competition has changed and it's only the top four teams going into the play-offs. There are probably going to be eight teams vying for those top four spots, so it will spice up the competition.
"It's a big goal of ours to get into the top four and then peak at the right time – but it's hard to get that balance right."