FORMER Edinburgh and Scotland A hooker Andrew Kelly has been unveiled as the new head coach of the Heriot’s Rugby Super6 outfit. The 37-year-old takes over the position vacated when the club’s original appointee, Ciaran Beattie, was moved on by the SRU to the Scotland 7s job.
Kelly has been based in Hong Kong the last seven years, initially as a player-coach and then head coach for Valley RFC, who have were the Saxo Markets Premiership champions six years on the bounce between 2012 and 2018. He is committed to seeing out the current season with the club but is confident that his assistants at Goldenacre, Fin Gillies and Phil Smith, will be able to man the fort until he arrives, which looks likely to be mid-February – in time for the last two regular season matches as well as the play-offs of the domestic element of the new competition.
“Because we are so late in the day now, I don’t want to leave Valley in the lurch,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to the Final which is on the 9th February, and I’ll join Heriot’s after that. If we get knocked out earlier then I’ll join Heriot’s earlier, but at the moment I am committed here until 9th February.
“I’ll be in touch with all the management and coaches at Heriot’s, doing my homework on the players and just keeping my eye on the analysis, so that I am able to hit the ground running when I get there,” he added.
“The team are in great hands at the moment. Both Fin and Phil are great guys so I’m more than comfortable about how it is going to work in terms of keeping an open dialogue with them, and then when I get there, I will be ready to go.”
Kelly moved to Hong Kong after a decade playing for Edinburgh between 2002 and 2012, during which time he made over 150 competitive appearances for his hometown pro team.
“I then had four seasons playing with Valley. The first two were as captain, and I was coaching the forward as well the other two seasons. I was also doing a range of coaching from Under-8s all the way up to Under-19s during that time,” explained the former Stewart’s Melville schoolboy.
“Then Jack Isaac, our coach, got a job offer he couldn’t refuse and left, so I got approached to take on the head coach role, and I’ve been doing that ever since. This is my fourth season in charge and we’re about three games into the current campaign.
Happy in the Valley
“It is very much semi-pro, so it is Tuesday and Thursday nights with a Saturday game. As well as the coaching role with the Valley Fort – our junior section – I have also worked for one of our sponsors, helping with the sales side of their financial research business, which was great experience and good to see that side of things, but made me even more certain that coaching was the way to go for me.
“Hong Kong rugby really took off at the start of the qualifying campaign for the 2019 World Cup,” he added. “They got the funding for a core of about 35 players who are all full-time and those players get drafted out to the clubs so every team can have up to eight or nine pro players in their team each week, and that has really driven up the standard. We’ve also attracted some ex-Super Rugby players, so it is a good level.”
Kelly has also been a scrum/assistant coach of the Hong Kong national team the last few years. “It has been another great experience going through two Asian Rugby Championships and that World Cup qualifying campaign when we got to the repechage competition in the south of France against Germany, Kenya and [eventual qualifiers] Canada, but unfortunately didn’t get through.”
He spoke to Heriot’s when the initial application process for Super6 coaching jobs happened last year. “I was really quite aware of Super6 happening, it really caught my attention – it is quite a good initiative, to be honest with you – but the timing didn’t work out for me at the time, so I didn’t put my name forward for it,” he said.
“But this time round, I thought I was in a better position to make the move back home, and a better place in my coaching career to give it a go as well. I was approached by Heriot’s to put my hat in the ring for it, so I did that, flew over, had an interview, and went from there.
“I see it as a massive opportunity for myself and for my coaching career – one that I really couldn’t turn down. Hong Kong has been superb for my wife and I but we’re quite happy to move on and get back to Edinburgh.
“I just think rugby has been my passion. I gave coaching a go and enjoyed it. I obviously have a long, long way to go with my development but I’m happy to crack on and do that, and I’m just fortunate that Heriot’s have offered me this great opportunity.”
Heriot’s Rugby Club Director of Rugby, Neil Meikle welcomed that appointment. “We are hugely excited to have Andrew join us at Goldenacre,” he said. “His track record as a head coach is exceptional and his knowledge of the pro-game both within Scotland and overseas were both key qualities we were looking for in a head coach.”