The Stort Report
AFTER a shaky first half, Bishop’s Stortford managed their second win at home this season, defeating a visiting Hull Ionians side on Saturday. First XV flanker Dan Elsom sat down with the club’s Director of Rugby, Andy Long, to discuss the team’s progress so far in National One, and talk about the start of the European Champions Cup.
DE: The side seemed to struggle to find direction in the first half on Saturday. What was the difference between the performance in Coventry and the challenge posed by Hull?
AL: Like it or not, the two games were parallels in terms of mindset. They each had very different pressures. To go to Coventry and play as well as we did, then to come home and be expected to perform, both require different mindsets from players, especially having lost twice at home.
Against Hull, we made too many unforced errors. You couldn’t fault our intensity or work rate, but we lacked discipline and rugby intellect at times.
Most of their attack came from our mistakes. For example, we missed a lineout, and the next thing we knew we are defending in our 22, or we kicked the ball out on the full and found ourselves defending in our own half - we invited pressure on ourselves there.
We made some very uncharacteristic errors, and coming into half time it meant that even though we were 20-10 up, we had actually played all the rugby in our half. When we got time in their half, we came away with points.
But we found another gear in the second half. Two years ago we could have lost that game, but we showed a lot of discipline to come away with the win.
In the end, we came away with five points. If we had looked at this a few years ago, with our current position in the league, we would have to say we are happy with that. To not play well and still get five points, it’s very pleasing.
DE: Looking ahead to Birmingham Moseley this week, there will be things that need to change. The side didn’t punish Hull for their mistakes as they should have. What else do they need to build on leading into this week?
AL: Moseley had a good win on the weekend, but they have lost games where they thought they would have won. We will go there and put some pressure on them, but we can only do that by playing in the right areas and being disciplined to keep pushing them.
It’s about knowing when to play in the opposition half, and when to play in our own, and that is a balance we are finding.
DE: How do you think the side is settling in to National One?
AL: What we have shown in the first seven games is that we can compete with anyone. We probably deserved to lose the games we did, but we have still pushed those sides and taken a lot out of the game.
So now is a time for us to have a go and see if we can get into the top six and try to stay there.
We are really just enjoying ourselves in this league, but we can’t be complacent. As soon as we think we are good enough, we will get punished. We still have to earn the right in this league and that means we have to be very grounded and humble, and continue to work hard as a group.
We are developing well and we know we have more to give, especially considering we have players coming back and returning to the squad. We are only going to get stronger, and the guys coming back will be hungry to try to push for a place.
DE: The Premiership took a break this week for the start of the European Champions Cup. What do you make of the dominance Saracens showed in the first round?
AL: Saracens are a class apart in that competition. They really set the bar so high now. They have such a good squad that they can replace one player and just have class coming through. Their squad is so settled in a way, and they know each other so well. They get their basics right virtually every game - their set piece is so clean, and they clearly work so hard to play for each other.
I think the European comp is fantastic. That great victory by the Russian Krispy Yard side over State François in the Challenge Cup is just one example of the tournaments producing some exciting rugby and great results.
When Europe comes around you know you aren’t far off the Autumn internationals, so players are all trying to put themselves forward for Test selection there.
Being two years out from a World Cup, now is the time when Eddie Jones is going to start making any amendments to his squad, and then start to get them settled in the lead up. There are so many players vying for positions, which only means the rugby is going to get more exciting as guys push harder.
DE: Proposals to extend the Premiership season to 10 months have been met with a lot of concern from players. What are your thoughts on the proposition?
AL: To make the season longer is just crazy, because what you end up with is less of a product. The product we have at the moment is pretty good, but the more you drag it out, the bigger the squads are going to be, which means the less quality you will have in each of those squads, and the less of an exciting spectacle it will be for crowds.
It’s not just the physical demand on players that makes it tough, but the emotional side as well is really hard. You are going out and taking part in a world title fight every week. A boxer, for example, gets up for one fight every few months – but these guys are doing it every week. When you look at increasing training volumes as well, you are going to get guys falling out of love with rugby. We have to remember that while it is a job, it is also a sport, and the reason people play is because they love it. Extending the season could see people falling out of love with the game earlier and then retiring earlier.
Bishop’s Stortford are away to Birmingham Moseley this Saturday, 21st October, kicking off at 3pm.
CLICK HERE to watch highlights of the game v Hull Ionians
Updated 17:53 - 24 Oct 2017 by Perry Oliver