Liam Middleton welcomes James Merriman's Bristol return

Bristol coach Liam Middleton says his team will be boosted by the return of "stalwart" James Merriman for Friday's play-off game against Nottingham.

The flanker has been sidelined since February after undergoing knee surgery, but will return to action two weeks earlier than expected.

"It's great to see him back," Middleton told BBC Points West.

"James has played some very good games for us this season and has been a bit of a stalwart."

During the Welshman's absence, Marco Mama has impressed in the openside flanker role. But with Mama now suffering injury problems himself, Merriman will make his return on Friday.

"Marco has a medial knee strain that will put him out of this game but will be back for the next one," confirmed Middleton.

"James made way for Marco, who then grabbed the shirt and has equalled some of his best performances.

"Selection will be tight but Marco isn't available, James is and I'd expect him to take the field."

Bristol, who topped the Championship table at the end of the regular season, welcome the Green and Whites to the Memorial Stadium knowing a win will see them through to the play-off semi-finals.

However, Middleton is expecting a tough challenge as Nottingham have to win the game to be certain they still have a chance of progressing.

"It's going to bring a real tension and a real physicality to the game, which will make achieving that semi-final place even harder," he added.

"They're going to be desperate. We know what's at stake, the guys will be in good shape physically and mentally.

"I think we're all just looking forward to achieving something."

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