After three years of emphatic success, Melton RFC head coach Gareth Collins believes this season’s troubled campaign will strengthen the club.
The former Championship player guided the First XV to back-to-back titles, two county cups and their highest-ever league position after taking over in 2014.
But the Melton juggernaut was in danger of stalling this season as a crippling injury list, including a clutch of key long-term absentees, saw the team briefly slip into the bottom three in Midlands East One.
Yet four wins from the last five, capped by Saturday’s 19-5 result at already-relegated Huntingdon, eased them away from danger and lifted them to the comfort of a solid mid-table finish.
“Playing the top six sides back-to-back and failing to pick up any points we got ourselves into a difficult situation,” Collins said.
“It created opportunities for other sides at the bottom to see us as a game to win and a target.
“But we had a number of cup finals at the end of the season and came through them.
“There were a few nerves, but we always knew it would be in our hands with the teams we had left to play.
“The guys really pulled together when we needed it, and as well as the results, a couple of those performances were the best of the whole season.”
The eighth-place finish was a little lower than a repeat of the top-six spot initially targeted.
But there have been good lessons learned, particularly in dealing with adversity in an unforgiving league, as they recovered from a string of chastening defeats after the turn of the year, including a 95-0 rout at champions Bedford.
The integration of more Colts into high-calibre senior rugby, has been another bonus, if an enforced one.
“It’s been a tough battle and at times it was very difficult to keep going, but we have done it,” Collins added.
“We used 47 players in the first team last season which is an incredible number and that’s frustrating if you want to finish higher.
“We do have a large squad now which we haven’t done previously, but if you’re going to challenge you do need that consistency in selection.
“The fact we have been through difficult times will stand us in good stead next year.”
Collins will look to rebuild again this summer, with two or three first-teamers likely to depart, but sights will not be lowered a great deal when the players return for pre-season on July 1.
“We weren’t far off where we wanted to be, and we will learn lessons of this season and set realistic targets,” Collins said. “But as a minimum we will be looking at staying in this league.
“We have already had meetings about our structure going forward and looking at Colts coming through, but now we will get a full eight-week break which we all need.”