While the pre-season fanfare surrounded the arrival of new names at the region like Jerry Collins and Barry Davies, the impact made by another newcomer, second-row Richard Kelly has largely gone unnoticed outside of Ospreylia.
The former Olchfa schoolboy and product of Dunvant RFC, who celebrates his 22nd birthday today, made his Ospreys debut at the very end of last season when he came off the bench late on during the defeat at Munster on the final weekend of the 08/09 campaign. That landmark made an incredible turnaround in fortunes for a player who missed more than two years of age-grade rugby after suffering two serious leg-breaks that looked like preventing him from achieving his dream of playing for the Ospreys.
The fairytale was completed this summer when, after impressing in the all-white jersey of Swansea RFC in the Premiership last season, he was rewarded with an Ospreys contract, and handed the chance of finally making the step-up to regional rugby.
Kelly has revelled in his new environment, impressing the coaches and his playing colleagues with not only his ability, but also, his commitment and ambition, as he settled into the squad during pre-season. With a couple of impressive outings to his credit against Leeds Carnegie and Gloucester, he says things couldn’t be going better for him:
“It’s been an amazing experience so far, to have the opportunity to be around the Ospreys environment as a professional rugby player, I’m really enjoying it. I’ve learnt such a lot already, especially off some of the players that are here in my position. When you look at the quality second-rows in the squad, if I can’t learn from them I won’t learn anywhere. They’ve all been really supportive of me, and are happy to help me in whatever way they can. Goughie in particular has done lots of work with me, he’s put a lot of time and effort in with me, staying behind after training to do extra work and it’s really helping me develop.
“It’s good to be here. I’ve always wanted to be here. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is play rugby for the Ospreys, through all my setbacks and the disappointments I’ve had. To actually be here now as one of the squad is all that I could hope for, and I’m making sure that I enjoy every minute and give it everything I can. I’m working with some great players and coaches. The second row is particularly competitive, but I think that if I can establish myself, and make a name for myself here then I can be really proud of the achievement.”
As an Ospreys age-grade player, Kelly suffered a broken leg whilst still with the Under-18’s, and on his return to action, he unfortunately fractured his tibula and fibula, keeping him on the sidelines for more than two years. Understandably, having been given a second chance, Kelly is keen to repay the region for the faith shown in him. He said:
“I missed more than two years of rugby at what was an important time for my development and missed out on Under-20 rugby completely. I came back towards the end of the season before last at Swansea, and then last year, I just wanted to aim to establish myself in the Premiership. I had a good year, established myself as first choice, and luckily, somebody noticed me up here and I’ve got my chance.
“There were times that I thought that I’d never get here. It’s what I’ve always dreamed of doing, and I did think at times that I would have to give up on my dream to be honest. People around me, and people here at the Ospreys helped me, they stuck with me and supported me, and I’m glad that I’ve got this chance to repay them. I wasn’t actually part of the Academy when I got injured, I was just playing at age-grade level, but people like Garin Jenkins, Alex Lawson and Gruff Rees really helped me a lot, they kept me involved here so I felt a part of what was happening, and gave me some hope. At Swansea as well, Richard Webster was a great help in getting me back on track. Basically, these people made me realise that if I put in the hard work, I would get my chance in the end, and I’m grateful for their help, without them I wouldn’t be an Osprey now. The only way that I can really thank them for helping me to get through it is to make an impact for the region, so that’s what I’m working hard towards achieving.
“I suppose I’m a good example for any player in the Premiership who hasn’t got a regional contract. If you knuckle down and play well, the Ospreys are watching, they will give you a chance. It’s not the end of your career if you don’t have an Academy contract, if you show that you have the ability and you want it, then you can still become an Osprey.”
Having featured for the Ospreys in pre-season, it was back to St Helen’s and Swansea RFC last weekend, when he helped the All Whites to an impressive 38-6 win over Newport to maintain their 100 per cent start to the new campaign. While he will continue to turn out for his old club, Kelly has ambitions of adding to his solitary competitive outing for the Ospreys to date, but he realises that he needs to stay patient. He added:
“I’ve spoken quite a bit to the coaches about their expectations and they’ve explained what they want from me. I know that all being well, I’ll get a few games to my credit over the year, and maybe start a few games in the Anglo Welsh and hopefully, I’ll make a bit of a name for myself. With the personnel that are here, I know that you have to take your opportunities, but it’s up to me. If I put my hand up and perform well when I get the chance then it makes the coaches have to think about me, that’s all I can do.”