Liam Middleton delighted with Bristol Rugby's show of character against Cardiff
LIAM Middleton felt Bristol's 23-14 victory over Cardiff was a perfect reminder for his players of how good they are after the "difficult time" in which they suffered three straight defeats.
And the head coach now wants to see his team continue their upward curve with another positive British & Irish Cup result against Ulster on Sunday, so they return to Championship action brimming with confidence.
Middleton insisted he and his players had shut themselves away from the external pressure that came from successive defeats against Leeds, Moseley and Rotherham.
But, with Bristol slipping to ninth place in the table on the back of those defeats, dealing with pressure and criticism has become something of an occupational hazard in recent weeks.
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"It had been three games since we'd had a win and it's always a difficult time for any group of players at any level in any sport," said Middleton.
"But these guys have shown character in the last few weeks. People on the outside looking in were probably thinking 'What's going on?'
"I can tell you what's been going on: we've been working unbelievably hard, it hasn't hit our spirit, and we knew that eventually a result would come our way. I think we worked for our result and it was hard fought.
"This victory lets the guys know how good they are – and we are a good squad, we just haven't had the results our way.
"Now we've had a result our way, but we'll get to work on Tuesday and we probably won't do anything different to what we did last week when we lost – we'll work unbelievably hard going into a tough home game against Ulster."
Asked whether the victory at the Arms Park relieves some of the external pressure on the coach and his Bristol squad, Middleton said: "I'm sure it does. We've shut ourselves away from that but ultimately it is there – it's sport, it's a public arena and we've just got to take that on the chin.
"We want to build some momentum on top of this, but we also know that Ulster will pose a significant challenge for us. We're back to the home ground, though, and we're back to playing some more flowing rugby and we'll have a good go at it next week."
Middleton felt his team could have been denied an additional 14 points by decisions from the officials, with Ryan Edwards, who scored Bristol's first try, having a further two ruled out – the first for a knock-on, the second for a forward pass. Both calls appeared marginal. "I don't want to be critical of officials but as we saw it, I thought there was 14 points there for us," he said. "We'll look on the video, but from what we could see, I think they were poor decisions – not really acceptable at this level, where margins are so small."
Winger Edwards himself was just happy to get on the scoresheet and enjoy a winning return to Wales.
The 22-year-old, from Newport, said: "It's nice to be back home – and scoring at the Arms Park is a great feeling, especially scoring for Bristol. I should have had a hat-trick and on any other day it probably would have come off.
"But I'm happy with one try and the win."