Old faces could be in line for a return as Melton RFC’s First XV get set to begin a new era under former Leicester Tiger, Mike Holford.
Melton begin pre-season on Tuesday when Holford will take his first training session as head coach at Burton Road, from 7pm, with old and new players invited to join the ranks.
Holford initially agreed to join the club as a forwards coach, but was promoted to the top role following the departure of head coach Gareth Collins back to former club Leicester Lions.
The former England Under 19s and 21s junior international is relishing a new start despite the drop down from Midlands Premier with South Leicester to Midlands Two East (North) with relegated Melton.
“It’s a big challenge that I’m looking forward to,” he said.
“I just want to go and enjoy it and the players to enjoy playing here.
“I expect the same high standards, but I don’t think the pressure will be the same in terms of results straightaway.”
He added: “It’s a shame I won’t be working with Gareth because I thought we would make a good team, but I can show them things in forward play that he couldn’t so I hope to see improvements in those areas.”
Club chairman Marcus Twidale added: “Employing Michael Holford, with his wealth of experience, is a solid building block for the long-term plan of investing back into the local community to benefit all.
“We want to establish rugby as a sport for everyone, whatever their size, speed, background or circumstances to improve fitness, mental health, well-being, and ultimately, Melton.”
The changes could pave the way for the return of several former regulars who either moved to other clubs or simply stopped playing last season.
But Holford would also like to reward the younger players who stepped in to fill the sizeable holes left in the first team squad and impressed in what proved a hopeless cause.
“There are a few boys who didn’t play last season who I’m trying to entice back, but there also a lot of young lads who can hold their heads high,” he said. “Last season will stand them in good stead and it will improve them as people.
“They were on the end of some bad results, but came out with some good wins against teams that pay, so it shows what potential is there.”
Holford brings a rich wealth of experience to Burton Road after seven years at the coalface with the Leicester Tigers and two with Wasps when the two clubs were the dominant forces of the English game.
He learnt the rudiments of coaching during his final years at Welford Road, later taking over at South Leicester.
“I was lucky to get to play with some of the world’s best players at Leicester and Wasps, played in some big games and got a couple of winner’s medals,” he recalled.
“I scored two tries against New Zealand, played in the Premiership final and a European semi-final.
“I loved playing, but in the later years I was just doing it for a job. Then I started coaching and found it a lot more rewarding.”
His last campaign was spent as forwards coach with South before accepting the lure of a fresh challenge.
With Melton, the role could involve further minutes on the pitch for the 36-year-old.
“I will play as and when I need to and will make judgments on that,” he explained.
“I would rather see the young lads play, but if needed I will definitely step in.”
The club is still looking to recruit a new backs coach to support Holford after its original number one target accepted a head coach offer elsewhere.
“My area of expertise is in the forwards which I think will pay dividends,” he said.
“We may have a different game plan, but first I need to get to grips with what players we have and what style of play will suit them.”
Holford now lives in Melton, but was already familiar with the club as a Syston lad and through two years at King Edward VII School which shared a site with Melton Rugby Club.
“I had been to the club a few times already and love the atmosphere here. It’s a great family club,” he said.
“It’s on my doorstep now and I know a lot of people there from school days and have a lot of friends there.
“There is a lot of potential here to be a strong side and go higher up the leagues.
“There has been a production line of talent in Melton, and if we can build something in the community and go in the right direction there is no reason why we can’t entice these players to stay at the club.”