Stortford developing a plan B as coach Andy Long looks to kick on
On the eve of Bishop's Stortford's curtain-raiser against Darlington Mowden Park, last season's runners-up, at Silver Leys on Saturday (Sept 1), Indie sports reporter Michael Vaughton speaks to Stortford's director of rugby, Andy Long, about the club's second season in National League 1..
Meat is Murder, The Bends, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? – that second album is not always as difficult as the old saying would have you believe.
And Bishop’s Stortford have put themselves in a great position to enjoy a successful follow-up to last season’s debut appearance in National League 1.
Director of rugby Andy Long is relishing the prospect of seeing his side take on the likes of Blackheath, Rosslyn Park and Rotherham Titans this term as they look to build on last season’s seventh-place finish.
Hard work across all departments and a cohesive strategy have given Stortford a great platform to build on – and Long, who is embarking on his seventh campaign at Silver Leys, will keep pushing everyone to achieve even more.
“Last year we were embarking on our first year in National 1 and not really knowing what it was going to be like,” said the former Bath, Newcastle and Northampton prop. “Now, a year on, we’ve got a bit more experience and this time is always the calm before the storm in many ways.
“We’ve got a flavour of it now and we’ve been to these other clubs and put them under a lot of pressure.
“There’s that second-season syndrome and it’s always difficult, but we’ve got to have confidence and belief in what we do and express ourselves on the field.
“It can all change very quickly so you’ve got to keep working hard every week to get better. As soon as you take your foot off the gas and think you’ve made it, you get a shock.
“We’ve also got to keep learning, keep grounded and be humble. There’s a good humility in the group.”
One element of Stortford’s pre-season preparations was their sponsors evening as the club said thanks to its backers, as well as getting them involved in the team photographs.
Long believes Stortford are a good example to others when it comes to being united, with all the different elements at Silver Leys coming together to create a great environment.
“It’s good to do stuff for the sponsors. What they do for the club and allow us to do is really important – without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” he said.
“We pride ourselves on being one club in terms of sponsors, youths, minis and first team, and I think we actually practise what we preach.
“A lot of clubs claim to be one club or claim to be a community club, but we actually are one, all the way up from the minis to the vets.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved and now we’re looking forward to getting on with the season.”
Stortford have become accustomed to fine campaigns in recent years, with the National League 3 London & SE title being claimed in 2012-13.
They came third, second and third in National League 2S – the second-place finish was followed by a play-off defeat to Ampthill – before finally taking the crown and securing another promotion in 2016-17.
Now, with one campaign at this level under their belt, Long wants them to learn some valuable lessons and be a force once more.
“In a game sense, a lot of it’s about how we manage games – knowing we don’t always have to play with the ball, kicking well, putting teams under pressure and realising when we haven’t got momentum in games,” he said.
“We were probably guilty of forcing things a little bit when we didn’t have momentum and almost allowing sides to put pressure on us. This year is about trying to adapt our game and have a plan B, as well as trusting our ability to score tries.”
Long and his coaching staff have worked hard to get the right mix when it comes to shaping a successful side, with home-grown talent, signings and players recruited on dual registration from Premiership and Championship academies all playing a part.
Giving youth a chance has certainly been a big element and that will continue.
“We have to be that way because we don’t have the budget some other sides would have,” said Long. “We can’t just keep buying loads of players in, so we have to trust our young players and give them opportunities.
“When you see a young player coming through it’s really rewarding. We had six guys who had played colts rugby last season out there against Canterbury in pre-season doing well.
“There are also players you bring in like the Dan Elsoms, the Baxter Wilsons and the Johnny Nevilles from other clubs, who are used to other backgrounds and cultures, as well as maybe bringing in a couple of Saracens players as well. It’s about getting the blend right.
“You never know what’s around the corner and we’ve picked up a couple of significant injuries in the back row with Steve Ball and Baxter Wilson needing operations. When you can’t go out and get players you’ve got to bat clever.”
It all kicks off this Saturday at home to last season’s runners-up Darlington Mowden Park, followed by matches against Rosslyn Park, Birmingham Moseley, Sale and Loughborough Students in a busy first month.
“Darlington came second last season and we had two great games against them,” said Long.
“We drew against them at home and then we were 27-14 up against them away from home and let it slip.
“Every team’s going to have improved and we can’t wait.
“We’ve just got to focus on the things we’ve worked on over pre-season and let our rugby do the talking.”