Liam Middleton's confident Bristol rugby players can hit top gear in coming weeks
LIAM Middleton is confident his Bristol players are ready to peak over the coming month, as they look to end the club’s three-year exile from the Aviva Premiership.
Bristol, who led the way in the Championship during the regular season and then won their play-off pool, head to Penzance on Monday to face Cornish Pirates in the first leg of the semi-final.
In four weeks’ time, the champions of the Championship will be known – and head coach Middleton feels his players are ready to hit top gear.
“Finding form and managing performance is a tricky thing, particularly in a game that has so many facets to it – you’ve got 22 players who will play on a match day,” said Middleton.
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“Finding form for an individual athlete is tricky, but it’s not as tricky as getting 15 players to work together all at the same time. But I think our players are in a good place, both physically and mentally, and I do think we will hit a peak performance over the next four weeks.”
After a couple of wobbles early in the play-off pool, where they were held to home draws by London Welsh and Nottingham, Bristol responded by winning the pool thanks to victories over Welsh and Doncaster.
They are unbeaten in their last seven games, going back to February 19 when, coincidentally, they lost by one point at Cornish Pirates.
But Middleton is confident that, if his team execute their game-plan properly at Mennaye Field, they will have too much for the Pirates.
“They’ve got quite good balance,” said Middleton of his team’s opponents. “As a side, they’re probably quite similar to us, although I think there are aspects of our game which are superior to theirs. I think we certainly have a stronger cohesiveness as a group – but we will show them respect.
“I respect all of the other three teams in the semi-finals, but Pirates pose some interesting threats. But, at the moment, I feel very confident about where our group is.
“There are a couple of their individuals we might put a little bit of focus on. But one thing I will say is that we’ve probably spent the vast majority of the time focusing on our game, because it’s almost a case that, if we get it right, we don’t feel they can compete.”
Flanker Marco Mama has overcome a calf injury and is back in contention, while Middleton has no fresh injuries to report.
Fly-half Tristan Roberts is also available after injury, but is unlikely to be involved, while prop Darren Crompton (neck) will miss out.