Ulster game will help us in Championship, says Bristol Rugby's Rhys Lawrence
RHYS Lawrence believes Bristol's high-pressure British & Irish Cup trip to Belfast next week can help the play-off chasers when they return to the Championship in late January.
Bristol and Ulster Ravens are separated by one point in Pool One of the British & Irish Cup – and next Friday's winners at Deramore Park will almost certainly advance to the last eight.
And hooker Lawrence, whose team fell out of the play-off places in the Championship when they lost 32-17 at Cornish Pirates on New Year's Day, believes sampling the environment in the Northern Irish capital could help Bristol further down the line this season.
"There is no hiding away from the fact we are in a tough spot in the Championship, so the more high-pressure and tough games we can play in, the better," said Lawrence. "If we can go to Belfast and win the game, it will be another little victory for us in terms of momentum and confidence, and that is what we need at the moment.
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"Winning a high-pressure game over there would be nothing but good for us – both in terms of the British & Irish Cup and then going back into the league."
After travelling to Belfast, Bristol host Cardiff in their final British & Irish pool game on January 20, before a key home Championship clash with Leeds on January 25.
With Bristol and Leeds level on points in the league, albeit with Leeds having a game in hand against Plymouth this weekend, that fixture is already looking as if it will have a significant impact on Bristol's hopes of achieving a top-four finish.
"It was very disappointing to lose in Penzance, but we are not out of the race yet," said Lawrence.
"We are just over halfway through the league season, and, while we are focusing on Ulster at the moment, we know that game and the one against Cardiff can potentially help us build momentum going into the Leeds match."
Beating Ulster Ravens on their own soil will be a tricky enough task – although Bristol may be helped by the fact Ulster's first team play a crucial Heineken Cup match against Glasgow three miles down the road at Ravenhill on the same evening.
Lawrence, however, believes the Irish province's depth is such that their second-string will always be able to field a strong team.
"With Ulster, Munster and Leinster, if someone pulls out of their first team through injury, there is always someone in the wings to come in and play just as well," said Lawrence.
"So those are the players we are going to be coming up against next Friday. We know it will be a tough challenge, because those guys are always looking to prove a point and make a name for themselves within the Ulster squad.
"But we want that quarter-final spot, we want a home quarter-final at the Mem, and we are going over there to win a game of rugby, learn from the environment and kick on before we play Leeds in the league."