u20 championship

Kelly ready to lead Ireland U20 without the weight of captaincy on his shoulders

The captain for the Six Nations campaign has been nursing an injury in the lead up to this week’s World Championship.

IT HAS BEEN a frustrating year, so far, for Ireland U20 back Jack Kelly.

The powerful and versatile back came out of the winter as captain of the national age grade side. However, what might have been his big introduction to the wider rugby community’s consciousness was heavily restricted due to a shoulder injury that dogged him through and Six Nations.

Modern professionals have settled into calling these lengthy spells of injury ‘part and parcel of rugby’. Even so, rolling his ankle in his first field session back seems too harsh of a lesson about the rigours of the game at its elite level. The shoulder is still something the former St Michael’s stand-out has to be wary of as Ireland prepare to open their World Rugby U20 Championship against Italy tomorrow.

“It was weird enough being named captain and then sort of straight away not being able to be selected,” said Kelly before the squad made the long trek to Georgia – via Amsterdam and Kiev – for this tournament.

“Then coming back and getting injured again, it was frustrating. It happens everyone, you can’t always be fit. Everyone gets injured. It was annoying that I got injured in that way during the Six Nations. I just concentrated on getting back in time for the World Cup. Here I am, so I’m happy enough.”

Here he is. A valuable attacking threat for Peter Malone’s side whether selected at centre or fullback, and also a helpful presence of continuity after a host of injuries and coaching change. With Nigel Carolan taking up a role in Connacht’s senior coaching setup, Kelly is primarily dealing with backs coach Kieran Campbell, another familiar face.

“We had him at U19s so it is not as if he completely new. A lot of us have played under him before. Nigel was brilliant, our backline was working really well. (He had) a huge difficulty in selection because there was a lot of talent there. There are a few injuries now so it is a different backline there now, so hopefully we can can come together the same as we did in the Six Nations.

“Kieran has his own ideas. We had a meeting with him a while back and he is open to any suggestions that we have as well and I suppose we are just going to work it our ourselves with his direction and any input we can give, anything we have learnt from Nigel already, we are going to use.”

Jack Kelly Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

As for the captaincy, that particular weight has been taken off Kelly’s shoulders to allow him focus on recovery and raiding gaps in Georgia to create big moments for Ireland. Fellow Leinster man Paul Boyle has taken the front seat this time around, but there are no shortage of leaders behind him.

“It’s easier for myself, having not played in a good few months, to concentrate on trying to play well myself and not having to worry about the team as a whole. It’s a bit of pressure off.

“We always talked about the captaincy just being, when I was captain, the person who spoke to the ref. There were always leaders in the team. Paul (Boyle) was one of the leaders in the team anyway. I don’ t think it really changes too  much. The only real difference is the role on the pitch but it is nice to just concentrate on my own game and just get back at it.”

This crop of U20s showed promising signs as they built through the Six Nations, but ultimately lost out to Wales and England in the closing weeks. Kelly is excited not just to re-take the field and test himself against the best of his peers in the coming weeks, but for the team’s chance to show a little more of what they’re capable of.

“As a team we still have a lot to show. We started off shaky enough in the Six Nations and then grew into ourselves. We are looking to hit that form straight away, hit the ground running when we get over to Georgia.

“I’ve had a long time out now. I’d always be fighting against the support staff back in Leinster but they are happy for me to go. Initially they came to me and said if you do not turn a corner with your rehab it might not happen. They would not let me go if they weren’t completely confident that I would be able to play.

“Thankfully with the rehab, with the work I was doing, it came around, turned a corner and now it is feeling good; I’m confident about it.”

Time to vent some of that frustration.

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