Liam Middleton hoping Bristol Rugby can follow Ulster's example
LIAM Middleton is confident Bristol can, in time, emulate Ulster's recent success – but for now he is merely concerned with knocking them out of the British & Irish Cup.
Head coach Middleton believes Bristol can take heart from the recent achievements of Ulster – runners-up in the Heineken Cup last season and the leaders of the RaboDirect Pro 12.
He cites the way the Northern Irish province used a strong academy and support from their local community to overcome a lean spell in the middle of the last decade and emerge as a major force in European rugby.
After winning the Heineken Cup in 1999, Ulster did not get past the pool stage again until 2011. They also finished a disappointing eighth in the Celtic League in 2005, before their hard work began to show in recent years.
This week's delicious £5 5 O'CLOCKTAIL is a refreshing Tequila Sunrise. Available everyday from our Bar for only £5 between 5pm & 7pm.
Terms: £5 cocktail applies to the cocktail of the week.
Contact: 0117 2448281
Valid until: Monday, May 27 2013
Middleton said: "They've got a good academy system and a lot of depth because they are provincial. They are also developing a culture of success.
"Several years ago, they were in a bad place as a club, relatively. They were really struggling and they certainly weren't as famous as they are now.
"But they've really come to the fore and, personally, I see a little bit of their rise to success as something we could mirror.
"They've always been a famous club, but I remember eight or nine years ago they were in a bad place. Now they are one of the most successful Heineken Cup clubs – and I think it's going to be great for us to go there to see what it's like to play against players who will come through to be good Heineken Cup players.
"Their resurgence to Heineken Cup rugby is one that fits my own vision – built on a strong academy, built on strong support and a gradual but consistent progression over time, rather than being great one year and bad the next.
"They built their success on their academy, on their support and on sound systems and they've now got to where we want to be in eight years' time."
Bristol face Ulster's second-string – the Ravens – at Deramore Pork this evening in a make-or-break British & Irish Cup pool match.
Bristol lead Ulster by one point going into the match – and whoever prevails this evening is likely to book a quarter-final spot, ending the other's hopes of qualifying.
And, although Ulster's first XV are also in action tonight, in the Heineken Cup, Middleton is braced for a tough challenge against a side who have been racking up the bonus points in Pool One.
"You can look at it from the perspective of it being a benefit, because they will keep maybe two players extra back for the first team," said Middleton.
"But then, because of the way they structure their selection, a lot of their Heineken Cup players only play in the Heineken Cup and for Ireland anyway.
"So it's probably going to be the same type of team, whether there's a Heineken Cup game that night or not. Ultimately, the team they can field against us on the same night as a Heineken Cup game is still a really good team – one that would still be competing in the top three of the Championship."
Middleton has made six changes to the team that lost 32-17 at Cornish Pirates in the Championship on New Year's Day, recalling George Watkins, Mike Tagicakibau, James Grindal, Ben Glynn, Marco Mama and James Merriman.
Bristol: J Tovey; G Watkins, M Tagicakibau, L Eves, D McIlwaine; A Jarvis, J Grindal (capt); K Traynor, R Johnston, J Hobson, B Glynn, G Townson, M Mama, J Merriman, M Eadie. Reps: R Lawrence, M Lilley, W Thompson, M Sambucetti, R Pennycook, R Tipuna, T Roberts.