Middleton expecting a tough test for Bristol Rugby despite Ulster's Heineken Cup focus
LIAM Middleton is braced for a tough match against Ulster Ravens in Belfast tomorrow – even though the Northern Irish province's first XV are also at home on the same evening.
Ulster meet Glasgow in a key Heineken Cup game, while, three miles away at Deramore Park, Ulster Ravens face Bristol in what is essentially a pool decider in the British & Irish Cup.
And, although the Ravens will be without leading try-scorer Chris Cochrane and key forward Neil McComb, both of whom are on first-team duty, Middleton still expects them to pose a big challenge for his side.
"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.
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"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.
Meanwhile, Bristol prop Jason Hobson's appeal against the verdict and his subsequent 12-week ban for biting will be heard on Tuesday, January 29.
Hobson was found guilty of biting Plymouth Albion centre Bevon Armitage and served two matches of his ban before lodging an appeal.
He is free to play until the appeal is heard, meaning he will be available for Bristol's British & Irish Cup games against Ulster Ravens and Cardiff, plus their crunch Championship game against Leeds.
Ulster Ravens: B McIlroy; N Walsh, S McCloskey, N O'Connor, R Scholes; S Olding, M Heaney; R Lutton, N Annett (capt), A Macklin, A O'Connor, J Simpson, C Joyce, A Birch, J McMahon. Reps: N Brady, A Warwick, J Donnan, N Faloon, J Creighton, S Morrow, C Colvin.
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.