LIFTING the European Rugby Challenge Cup later this month would be special for Diggle father-and-son Mike and George Ford.
George will be playing for Leicester Tigers against top French club Montpellier in the showpiece final on Friday, May 21 in front of 10,000 fans at Twickenham while Mike is the team’s attack coach.
And it comes seven years after the pair were beaten finalists in the same competition when Bath, where Mike was head coach and George was fly half, lost to Northampton Saints.
“If we beat Montpellier, it will be the first time we have won something together which would be special,” explained Mike.
Tigers have beaten French sides Brive and Bayonne, Irish clubs Connacht and Ulster and Newcastle Falcons to reach Twickenham in the competition which is rugby equivalent to the Europa League. The top clubs contest the Champions Cup.
Tigers, once one of the powerhouses of the domestic game and European rugby, have in recent years been battling at the bottom end of the Premiership after fortunes nosedived.
Mike admitted: “After the last couple of seasons we have had, it is nice to be involved in an end-of-season game like this.
“Steve Borthwick came in as head coach during the pandemic and hit the ground running and he has made us competitive again.
“Teams don’t like to come to Welford Road anymore as they know they will be in a physical battle.
“Steve had laid a good foundation and, if we can beat Montpellier, it will be great for confidence and show we are on the right lines.”
Toulouse play La Rochelle in an all-French final of the Champions Cup on May 22 which again underlined the strength of their game.
Mike said: “Montpellier are owned by a billionaire and have a great squad of world-class players.
“It will be a difficult game but all we can ask for is being in an European on home soil.”
Mike added European rugby is refreshing compared to the “slog” of the 22-game Premiership.
He explained: “It is good to be challenged by playing in different competitions and pitting your wits against teams from other countries.
“This year we have only played French and Irish clubs but have enjoyed them.”
Mike added the French teams have an advantage, continuing: “The Premiership is unforgiving and even games against the bottom clubs are a slog.
“In the Celtic and French leagues – I have coached in the latter where there are probably only six or seven top teams.
“We have far more competitive games whereas players from other countries can pick and choose their games and are fresher. That is why I believe English teams don’t reach more European finals.”
Mike added the late finish to the 2020 season because of Covid has meant players being in almost continuous action from August 15 to June 12.
“George has also had the Six Nations and other internationals, so it has been relentless for him. He has kept hold of his form but is looking forward to a good break,” he said.
Mike’s eldest son Joe is attack coach at second-tier side Doncaster who are second in the Championship.
Joe, 30, who has finished playing, has helped the Yorkshire side to seven wins from their first eight games, the one reverse against fallen giants Saracens.
“We are both attack coaches at our clubs and bounce ideas off one another,” he said.
Joe, who played for Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks, had a spell as player-coach at Yorkshire Carnegie before joining Doncaster.
Mike’s youngest son Jacob, 22, has also switched clubs in Essex where he is head coach at fourth-tier side Bury St Edmunds.
Jacob, who is director of rugby at Ipswich School, was previously head coach at Westcliff, also in the fourth tier.