FOLLOWING a week away from National One rugby, Bishop’s Stortford restarted their campaign with a thrilling 22-all draw with Darlington Mowden Park.
First XV flanker Dan Elsom sat down with the club’s Director of Rugby, Andy Long, to discuss what the side needs to do to convert a draw into a victory.
DE: Darlington came out ferociously in the opening quarter of the match. Do you think Stortford were caught a bit off guard at the intensity?
AL: They certainly were physical at the start; they were another level and you could tell they are second in the league.
But we know if we want to be matching those sort of teams, we need to be really well conditioned, and they showed us what the top end of this division really looks like.
DE: Darlington played a few players with links to Newcastle Falcons. Do you think their condition revealed a bit about our own fitness levels?
AL: Maybe a little bit, but that is just the nature of the group that we are compared to the group that they are. A lot of those guys would have been semi professional for quite a while now and many of them are more on the professional side of the spectrum.
That is just who we are, and it is important for us to still be who we are and not try to mimic something different.
But to compete consistently with sides like that, players need to take responsibility to do the necessary conditioning to be at this level.
DE: By the 60 minute mark, Stortford finally looked like they were back in the game. What went wrong in the opening half?
AL: If you look at our attack, it felt as though we got caught with our key playmakers on the floor a bit too much, which stopped our continuity. Their line speed in defence shut us down very well and we weren’t deep enough to get around them. Our playmakers had to take the ball into contact a lot, and it meant that we often had really slow ball. Where we really want to go on the outside of teams and find the space, but we weren’t able to do that consistently enough.
We’ve got to learn that we need to mix up our forwards and our backs taking the ball up, and we need to vary our game a bit and not be predictable.
From a defensive perspective, they played with a lot of width and hit us in the outside channels. We didn’t win too many first-up collisions and we weren’t as physical as we have been before, which allowed them to get momentum.
DE: What changed in the last 20 minutes compared to how the side started?
AL: We looked to move the ball a bit and found some space. The guys that came off the bench did a great job in getting us over the gain line. We then got in behind them, and we knew when we did that they would give away penalties. Those penalties allowed us to get momentum and swing the game from 22-10 to 22-all. In other games against top teams that we lost, we let it run away from us. So we managed to stem the bleeding and get back into the game, which is a real testament to the group. So we have to take that into the upcoming games.
DE: Looking ahead to this week, Fylde are a brand new challenge for Stortford.
AL: From what I’ve seen, they like to play; they will throw the ball around and play with a bit of width and be expansive. They clearly concede quite a few points under pressure, so we will need to keep the ball for long periods of time to keep them under pressure. But we also need to be wary that those guys are fighting for their lives and they are going to see this as a game that they think they can win. It will be a tough game, and we have to earn the right to win.
DE: This weekend will be the first overnight trip for the season. What challenge do you think travelling on a Friday poses for a semi-professional side?
AL: By the time the boys get off work and on the road, we have a five-hour trip out to Blackpool, so we won’t get there till quite late. But generally, when we have gone on long trips like this in the past, the boys play well. There are no distractions, so we can wake up as a group and do our prep on Saturday, and it makes us tighter.
Going to the north west of England is new ground for us, we have never played this team before and we are looking forward to doing that. It has its challenges training Thursday night and being back at the club on Friday to get on a bus, but on the flip side, that’s why we play rugby and that’s why we came in to this league.
Watch highlights of the match against Darlington here
Updated 21:29 - 9 Dec 2017 by Perry Oliver