Bristol Rugby: Players don't need reminding about humiliation at Nottingham, says head coach Liam Middleton
LIAM Middleton has no plans to remind his players of their November humiliation at Nottingham before this evening's return match – because he knows they will already be thinking about it.
Bristol were hammered 63-7 at Meadow Lane four months ago – a low point in their season and in Middleton's reign as head coach.
They have responded by winning 11 of their 12 matches since, only slipping up away at Cornish Pirates on January 1.
This evening's game at the Memorial Stadium is not only a chance for Bristol to boost their hopes of reaching the play-offs and closing the gap on third-placed Nottingham, but to put their Meadow Lane horror show behind them once and for all.
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Middleton said: "I think my job as a coach has been to focus them on what they need to do.
"I haven't mentioned the previous Nottingham game, because I know it's there and they know it's there.
"It's in the players' minds and they'll express that emotion on the pitch. The key thing is that we can direct that emotion into the right channels that allow us to be effective in winning the game.
"That emotion is going to be there, there's no question about that, so I don't feel there's any requirement for me to mention it."
The defeat at Nottingham was a fourth defeat in five Championship games for Bristol and forced chairman Chris Booy into issuing a public statement backing Middleton and his staff, but also warning that an improvement had to happen.
That improvement has been evident ever since, with Bristol producing their best performance of the season in last weekend's 18-6 win at Bedford.
"It was a difficult defeat – and we had a couple of defeats in and around that time," said Middleton.
"But we know the reasons for them – some of them were in our control, others were not. We just hit a bad patch, but I've always maintained our systems are right, the type of rugby we play is right, and I felt 100 per cent confident that we were on the right track.
"It didn't happen for us that day and that happens in some seasons. But I think we've pushed ourselves in the right direction since – and I had 100 per cent confidence that was going to happen.
"I knew it was going to happen, because we've got the right people, we've got the right systems and it was just about making it click. That was a low point for us, but we've actually gone on quite a steep curve from there onwards."
Middleton was recently joined at Bristol by a new director of rugby in Andy Robinson, who travelled to Bedford last weekend and has started to have an impact at training sessions.
And the head coach has stated how much he is enjoying working with the former England, Scotland, British & Irish Lions, Edinburgh and Bath coach.
"Andy's very much taking an observational position in the last week or so, but he gives us good perspective," said Middleton.
"At this stage of the season, with only six league games to go – and hopefully another four on top – you don't want to tinker with too much and break the clarity around the way we play.
"But Andy adds value, he gives real perspective on the things we are doing, and sometimes another viewpoint is quite powerful. His experience and his understanding of the game are world-class and I'm enjoying that – I'm really enjoying that different perspective."