Departing Melton RFC head coach reflects on five years of highs and lows

Gareth Collins helped Melton to a national cup semi-final, two county cup triumphs and back-to-back league titles. EMN-190417-133419002
Gareth Collins helped Melton to a national cup semi-final, two county cup triumphs and back-to-back league titles. EMN-190417-133419002
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Departing head coach Gareth Collins has won two county cup finals with Melton RFC, but believes Saturday’s finale to the First XV’s relegation season bears comparison with both triumphs.

Collins’ five seasons at Burton Road rank amonng the most successful in the club’s history, including two memorable county cup wins.

Melton RFC player-coach Gareth Collins shows the scars of battle at the first County Cup final triumph EMN-190417-150053002

Melton RFC player-coach Gareth Collins shows the scars of battle at the first County Cup final triumph EMN-190417-150053002

And it took an offer he couldn’t refuse to tempt him away - the head coach post at National League Two side Leicester Lions.

But with Melton long-since doomed to relegation back to Midlands Two after a bleak season, his team of promising youngsters and experienced old hands conjured up one final hurrah for their coach by toppling Collins’ hometown team, Rugby Lions.

“I think the county cup finals obviously stand apart from anything else in terms of occasion and beating higher-level opposition,” he said.

“They really do stick in the memory, but Saturday has to be right up there with them.

“We had a much stronger set of players in the cup finals, but on Saturday they got a result in a season where we had only won game.

“That in context was just as big an achievement as those finals.”

Collins has a great affinity with Leicester Lions, having played National League rugby there for 10 seasons, but admitted the job had come earlier than he was expecting.

“I had a great time and success there individually so it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” he explained.

“I have always kept in contact with the club and always had half-an-eye on them so if an opportunity came, I would put myself up for it.

“Their current coach wasn’t able to commit to next season and the club wanted to firm up their plans and approached me. It all happened very quickly.

“I wasn’t expecting it this season, I was all set to work with Mike Halford here.

“It will be a shift from amateur to semi-professional so it will be results-based and bring a different type of pressure, as well as a slightly different expectation from the players, but a lot of my philosophy will stay the same.”

Collins arrived at Melton with the club at rock-bottom following relegation to Midlands Three, but he immediately engineered back-to-back championships.

The County Cup was brought back to Melton for the first time in a memorable night at Welford Road in 2016, a season after the Firsts had reached the semi-finals of a national cup.

The following season, having consolidated in Midlands One, the First XV toppled another set of higher-league opponents at Welford Road to defend their county cup.

“I will look back at the last five years with massive fondness,” he said.

“The job came up when I was injured at the Lions and the club was so welcoming I decided to stay when I could have gone back and played.

Five years later I am still here which shows how much I have enjoyed my time, and it has taken a very good offer to prise me away.

“We have had highs and lows, but from where the club was when I first went in, I’m pretty happy how I’m leaving it now.”

Despite relegation as the bottom side in Midlands One, Collins is proud of the development made with a revamped squad which was massively depleted by retirements, injury and departures of senior players.

“Saturday’s result is massive in terms of next season,” he added.

“It was a performance of the right attitude and endeavour and will stand them in good stead, I’m sure of that.

“It has been a very tough season, the first I have suffered relegation, but it has been made a lot easier by the players.

“We still have a squad of 30-plus training each week and you have to look at the bigger picture.

“The club is more important than me and the first team and the club as a whole is still in great shape.”

While Collins has overseen his final league game with Melton, there is still the matter of a county cup semi-final this Saturday.

Standing in their way of a third trip to Welford Road in four seasons is an Oadby side who finished third in Midlands One, with 86 more points.

But if Melton’s - and Collins’ - recent County Cup history is anything to go by, perhaps there’s still time for one more fairytale finish.