Bishops 1st XV coach Angus Firth talks to OLLIE KEOHANE about Saturday’s home match against SACS.
There is so much rugby tradition between SACS and Bishops. Historically Bishops have dominated, but SACS have won eight of the last 10 games. What do you attribute this to?
SACS have prioritised and invested heavily in their rugby while having very good systems in place, which ensures their increasingly growing numbers and inevitable talent pool reaches its full potential. They have also concentrated on their conditioning and developed their defensive game enormously, which has certainly stymied our traditional attacking style. It is interesting to note that their age-group A sides have dominated as well over the last five years which was never the case in the past.
What is the difference in the southern suburb derbies, compared to the rest of the season?
After playing some of the traditional northern sides from the Boland, with their massive ventures into talent acquisition, it is always a pleasure to get back to local rivalry where the competition is exactly that, competition. Our rugby in the southern suburbs is still based on amateur principles and we all share similar philosophies on the game. You must also remember that much of the rivalry’s roots spread in U10 rugby on the junior school playing fields and have continued right through to the 1st XV. Playing each other twice a season home and away also adds to the excitement of the second encounter.
From a coaching perspective, what do you make of Bishops’ 2016 season? What have been the ups and downs?
It has been such a difficult season, where in so many games we have reached the halfway mark against some of the big schools on an even footing only to suffer disappointing losses. Our matches against Grey, Jeppe, Kingswood and Boland Landbou followed this exact route. It is interesting as our conditioning has been a major focus this year. Most of the losses have also been a result of our mistakes rather than the opposition’s dominance. Our highs were the matches against our traditional rivals St Andrew’s early in the season, and the home match against Wynberg, which for most of the team was the first time they had beaten Wynberg in any age group. Obviously, our last match against Rondebosch away was a huge disappointment to lose, but what a classic! Perhaps our finest rugby was played in the second half against Paul Roos, when after being on the brink of a huge defeat, the team showed enormous courage and character to come back and win the half 24-10. The biggest up for us as coaches has been to witness the doggedness and strength of character of the team to arrive every week with even more determination and resolve.
Last term, SACS got away from you guys in the first half, but after that the game was very even. Has your approach to this game differed from last term’s and if so, in what way?
I think we have settled, our injury woes are well behind us, and we’ve employed some interesting patterns that will certainly test their defence. We have also worked very hard on our defensive variation to disrupt their strong running forwards.
How would you rate the 2016 SACS side compared to 2015’s and were you surprised that they ran all the Paarl schools so close, only just losing to Paul Roos?
The 2015 side was full of talent and had a lot of pace. They may have lacked bulk but I don’t think many Bishops sides have been better in terms of skill and pace. Four of last year’s team have made provincial U19 selections for WP and the Sharks. The 2016 side lacks the pace and does not have as much raw talent but makes up for it in terms of hard work and effort. It is interesting that three of the 2016 side played for the 4th XV in 2015.
Playing on Piley Rees is an honour for both the Bishops boys and their southern suburb rivals. Do you think home-ground advantage will play a big role for you in getting a win? Especially as it’s the matrics’ last game against SACS on their home field?
Of course. Each and every player in the side reveres playing on the Piley and what it represents, and I have no doubt they will honour it on Saturday against SACS and in the forthcoming home fixture against Bosch.
Photo: Peter Heeger/Gallo Images