Holt’s first home game of the 2016/7 season against Norwich brought back memories for long-standing Head Coach Ed Steed. After starting his rugby career as an 8 year-old with Holt, Ed joined the Norwich club as a 16 year-old and played over 12 years for the Norwich First XV. As a winger or centre who could change direction at speed, he went on to gain representative honours for Eastern Counties, including games against Argentinian tourists and the Belgian National side.
Early in his playing career he had enjoyed a season in New Zealand, playing with the evocatively named Wellington Axemen. He had been enormously impressed with both the commitment and organisation of the game there, particularly at junior level. In the latter part of his career he took on a schools coaching role with Norwich RFC which allowed him to pursue a long-standing interest in the development of the game. Working with local colleges and schools in this capacity, he helped with the rugby teams at UEA and this took him into coaching. Once his reputation was established he was approached to take on first team coaching for Holt and is now starting his ninth season in this capacity.
Regulars at Holts’ Bridge Road ground have seen that, over this period, Holt have gradually adopted a more balanced style of play. In Ed’s words ‘taking the ball away from the crowded areas and looking for space’. This marks a departure from the club’s traditional forward dominated approach: at one time the forwards regularly scored more tries than the backs. Ed is reluctant to attribute this change purely to coaching styles. Rule changes that give a bonus point to a side that scores four tries have undoubtedly had an effect and Holt have been able to recruit and retain some effective performers in the backs. One way or another this makes games at Bridge Road more attractive for spectators.
Rugby has received a considerable boost with the re-introduction of the seven-a-side game into the Olympics; the first time it has featured at the games since 1924. As a pacy back Ed himself would have been a natural choice for any sevens team. However he has a firm commitment to the fifteen-man game which emphasises contact and the battle for possession. Although Holt players will feature in the end of season festival sevens tournaments the main challenge will always lie in the league.
This article first appeared, in a slightly different version, in the North Norfolk News (8th September 2016). Text Martyn Sloman; picture Stuart Young, showing Ed Steed presenting a club shirt to the photographer.