Middleton and Booy upbeat over Bristol Rugby's start to the campaign
LIAM Middleton has defended Bristol's record this season – both in terms of results and injuries – and is confident they will soon turn the corner on both fronts.
Bristol will welcome centre Bryan Rennie back from injury at Rotherham tomorrow, but Rhys Lawrence, Jack Gadd, Jon Goodridge, Matt Williams and Marco Mama have now joined long-term casualties Jason Hobson, Ross Johnston, Adrian Jarvis, George Watkins, Jack Tovey and Fautua Otto on the injury list.
Head coach Middleton has been hindered by injuries all season – but said the problems were essentially random, rather than being caused by one fundamental problem.
"I do a lot of work with the medical staff on trying to look into the real detail of what's gone on in training, surfaces, diet, sleep, just trying to find a reason – and we can't," he said.
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"You look through our injury list and it's completely random – it's a range of different things and it happens to teams.
"It happened to Wasps last season and there was no pattern to their injuries, either, just a bad luck run. I feel we'll come out of this and then we'll hit some stability and go along normally, because we're actually in good shape in terms of physical conditioning."
Middleton denied he or his players feel under mounting pressure due to their poor start to the campaign.
"You would perhaps think so from the outside, but personally I feel very philosophical about it, because there are some things that are out of our hands," he said.
"If I make a comparison with this time last year, the results haven't shown it but we are significantly advanced. We're training better, we know our systems better, while this time last year we were just trying to get to grips with how we want to play.
"Therefore, I'm pretty philosophical about it and I still think we've got an opportunity in the next four to six weeks to creep further up the league. If we sneak into the top four on the last weekend of the league season, it doesn't matter.
"It's a funny competition and the way it's structured probably suits us at the moment, because we've been hit with the inability to have consistent selection."
Bristol chairman Chris Booy is also confident Middleton and his players will start delivering positive results – and acknowledged the injury situation had taken its toll.
"We're lacking seven or eight of our very senior players and that's critical," said Booy. "We're in no crisis, we're still only five points behind fourth place and the reality is that we only need to come fourth.
"It's absolutely still in our hands and we'll keep going. We're still very confident we can fulfil our ambition, which is getting to the final and giving whoever it is, probably Newcastle, a really good go.
"Being the runaway winners in two of the last three seasons has not helped us, so maybe a bit of adversity and peaking later on could well help us this time."
Bristol were beaten 44-6 on their last trip to Rotherham – but Middleton is not using that drubbing as any kind of reference point this weekend.
"I don't look at last season, because they've had a changeover of players, we've had a changeover of players, and a lot of the guys going up this weekend weren't involved last time," he said.
"Rotherham is a notoriously difficult place to win a game. It's not really a game of rugby up there, it's like a brutal game of chess."