Ulster Ravens will have plenty of quality players, warns Bristol's Matt Sherratt
BRISTOL'S players are relishing the opportunity to test themselves against some of Ulster's established stars at the Memorial Stadium this weekend.
Ulster Ravens are yet to name their side for Sunday's British & Irish Cup match – but star No 8 Roger Wilson appeared in last weekend's win over Bridgend and could feature against Bristol.
The former Northampton man, who rejoined Ulster in the summer, has not travelled to Glasgow for this evening's Heineken Cup game and is, therefore, likely to be in the party that heads for Bristol tomorrow.
More than half the Ulster Ravens team that blew Bridgend away last weekend had first-team experience in the RaboDirect Pro 12, Heineken Cup or both.
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And there have been suggestions in Belfast that, in addition to Wilson, first-team back-rower Robbie Diack and Ireland prop Declan Fitzpatrick may also feature at the Memorial Stadium.
Bristol academy coach Matt Sherratt said: "Ulster are a very well-backed team – they've got an international quality squad, so whoever is in their second team are going to have played some RaboDirect rugby and some international rugby.
"It's not a case of it being an academy side, it's going to be a quality side with some quality performers in it. Last week, they had Roger Wilson playing, but throughout their squad they've got Heineken Cup and RaboDirect experience. But if you look at our past results, last season and this season, our players enjoy that kind of challenge.
"We had a meeting this week and went through possible names that could feature in their team – and you can see that the players relish playing those type of players.
"Ultimately, we want them to be as strong as they can be, because it gives us a real test."
Bristol, after losing three successive Championship games, opened their British & Irish Cup campaign with a 23-14 win over Cardiff at the Arms Park last weekend.
And Sherratt said the message to the Bristol players this weekend will be to go out and express themselves.
"A lot of our players are at their best when they are enthusiastic and making decisions based on what they see," he said.
"We've got some real quality players here and it's a balance of knowing our systems but also the players expressing themselves. Those are not just coaching words, we want them to go out and express themselves. Being at home at the weekend, and in a new competition, I think there is a perfect chance for them to do that."
Bristol's performances in the past two games, their 23-16 defeat at Rotherham and victory over Cardiff, have shown improvements on the two matches that immediately preceded them. And Sherratt wants to see further progress at the Memorial Stadium on Sunday.
"Ultimately, it's about improving week on week," he said. "Against Rotherham, we played some good rugby but probably just missed the final touches to give us points.
"At Cardiff, in the second half our decision-making was very good, we stuck with what we did and scored some points off the back of it.
"This weekend again will just be a case of trying to move that forward and improve aspects of our performances. If we do that, then things tend to take care of themselves."