Our Nottingham nightmare must not happen again, says Bristol Rugby's Liam Middleton
LIAM Middleton will send his Bristol players out against Jersey on Sunday with a warning that "what happened at Nottingham cannot happen again".
Plenty of words will have been spoken – by chairman Chris Booy, head coach Middleton, players and supporters – between last weekend's 63-7 drubbing at Nottingham and 3pm on Sunday, when Bristol kick off against Jersey.
But only the actions that take place during the 80 minutes at the Memorial Stadium will count for anything – and Middleton has made it clear that anything approaching last weekend's shambles cannot happen again.
After eight Championship matches, Bristol have lost five times – as many as they did in all 22 regular-season games in 2011-12 – and are eight points off the top four in eighth place.
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And the head coach has hinted at the need to eradicate an inherent problem – Sunday's nine-try defeat being depressingly similar to last season's collapse at Cornish Pirates and this season's 50-31 thrashing at Leeds.
"We're striving for a level of consistency," said Middleton. "We won't be excellent every week, but we can't have a decent performance and then a complete drop-off.
"We have to reference the 20 minutes at Cornish Pirates last season, the Leeds game and now this, and say, 'There's something in there and we've got to find a way of stopping that happening'.
"What happened at Nottingham cannot happen again from our guys – we just can't perform like that again.
"But they recognise that – they didn't go out at 3pm last Sunday and think, 'I don't care'. They do care – they work hard in the week, they were hugely motivated for the game and they were confident but not over-confident, and we didn't prepare for that to happen.
"But we still have to recognise that there were things in there that shouldn't be happening."
Bristol were 23-13 winners over Bedford in their most recent home game, which made their display at Meadow Lane all the more baffling.
And Middleton said: "It was an unacceptable performance from us and it's a difficult one to explain, particularly with team sports, which have multi-faceted aspects to them.
"I recognise a significant drop-off from Bedford to Nottingham – you can't get away from it, there's something in that. Sometimes those things happen but I think what made it worse was the fact we had such a good performance against Bedford and the drop-off is what is significant. That's the unacceptable aspect of it."
Even if centre Jack Gadd had not been injured at Nottingham, and prop Kyle Traynor called up for Scotland's match against New Zealand, Middleton would have made changes for Sunday's game.
But he stressed that striking the right balance between those who played last weekend and those who are itching to play after missing out in recent weeks was absolutely crucial.
"The question is balance," he said. "We picked the same team for Nottingham as Bedford as a way of saying, 'You guys really did well, now go out and do well again'.
"But we didn't do well again, we did very badly, so there has to be some change and we probably need to fire up the competition again.
"There are guys who didn't play and were upset by the performance, but there are also guys who did play and are upset by it and want to make it right.
"I can't give all of those players the chance to make it right again, because there needs to be a fresh impetus and a fresh level of confidence."