Kelly Comes Home
In September 2019, Heriot’s Rugby appointed Andrew Kelly as Head Coach to their FOSROC Super6 side, although the Goldenacre club needed to wait five months for him to return to Scotland as he finished his coaching duties with Valley RFC in Hong Kong, a club that had helped him move from player to coach and kick-start a new career.
With 164 Edinburgh Rugby appearances, Kelly is well known to many in the capital and beyond, the former Scotland age-grade and Scotland A cap having spent a decade with the club before taking up the opportunity of a lifetime in moving to the Far East in 2012.
We spoke to Andrew to take a look back at his career, the move from playing to coaching and his aspirations for the future.
Growing up in Edinburgh, Kelly was like any other sports-mad kid in the capital, taking part in an array of activities including football and golf, but there were two sports that really took his fancy: “I was quite a keen swimmer up until a point, swimming a lot for Warrender, until you had to do the early mornings. It was at that point that mum and dad made me choose between rugby and swimming; they were delighted when I chose rugby to avoid the early starts!
“My dad, grandad and grandpa all played rugby - rugby’s in the family. I really started at Stewart’s Melville and in club rugby with the minis at Royal High, I enjoyed both at the same time, but it was at school that I really focused on it.
“School rugby really took over as Stew Mel has a really proud history of good rugby pedigree, and it was during secondary school when it [his career] really took off.
“I was fortunately doing okay at it. It really drives you as you begin to get selected for teams and for Edinburgh regional sides, it gives you a bit of a burst you want to play more, then you want to try and get into the Scottish age-grade sides or Scottish Schools teams - it keeps your drive going as you’re growing up.
“I was captain of the First XV at school then then played for the FPs for a couple of seasons upon leaving school.
“I moved to Currie for a season and it was after that I got offered a contract with Edinburgh.”
Asked if he ever thought he could make a career out of rugby he recalls: “I don’t know if I ever really thought ‘Yeah I can get paid to play rugby here’. I don’t think that ever really crossed my mind to be honest with you. I saw professionalism when it came in and thought ‘Yeah, that’s happening but it’s nothing really to do with me’.
“I never really thought about it, you just played the best that you can, try to get selected for teams and the pro rugby was just a knock-on effect from that.”
After an illustrious career with Edinburgh and having just turned 30, Kelly started to think about his next steps: “I was at the stage of thinking ‘Do I push on for another professional contract down south or perhaps somewhere else?’
“I decided it would be better to gain a life experience and use my rugby to progress myself but playing to not be the main focus.”
Whilst still playing for Valley Kelly had started coaching with the club from minis to U19: “I was getting really into the coaching. It was good, even coaching wee ones, it helps bring you on as a coach. Our Head Coach at the time Jack Isaac got an opportunity to move back to Baritz. It was then that the club approached me to see if I’d like to take on the Head Coach role.
“It was a bit of a surprise, they showed a faith in me and wanted me to do the job. I also had some really good assistant coaches around me to help me out, I leaned on them massively.
Having been at the club for the last eight seasons Kelly made the decision to return to Scotland last autumn: “It wasn’t too much of a hard decision to come back to Scotland in the end. The opportunity with Heriot’s for myself and for my progression as a coach was really good.
“Neil Meikle [Heriot’s Director of Rugby] was in Hong Kong for a couple of years, we got to know each other quite well. He got in touch when Ciaran Beattie accepted the Scotland 7s role, [Beattie held previously the Super6 Head Coach role at Heriot’s] he thought I should put my CV forward, so I pursued it and we went from there.”
“Super6 was definitely in the back of my mind, I’d had a look at it from a distance, and thought it was a really good idea for guys like me, for young coaches just starting their careers to have an avenue where we can fully focus on coaching was brilliant, I thought.”
Whilst Kelly saw out the season in the Far East, he was able to keep in touch with the capital side on their progress during the inaugural FOSROC Super6 season. He said: “I would catch up with Phil [Smith] on the phone, try speak to him every week just to see how they had been going. I was given access to the games, I would download them, obviously still focusing on Valley, but took the time to watch Heriot’s games and just see how they were playing.”
Heriot’s won seven out of their ten games in the FOSROC Super6 before the season was brought to an end during the current Covid-19 restrictions. They ended the season in second place in the league with 34 points, only four fewer than city rivals Watsonians, who topped the standings.
Although Kelly had been keeping in touch with the team from Hong Kong, he arrived back in Scotland in time to watch Heriot's last two games against Watsonians and Ayrshire Bulls.
He has been impressed with the team’s performance this season:
"Heriot’s have been a really good team. They have been a really dangerous side, they can attack from anywhere and score points from anywhere.
"That side of things is really exciting and I’m looking forward to getting involved with that.
“Fin [Gillies, Forwards Coach] has done incredibly well with the forward pack, in terms of players we’ve got Ross Jones who has done very well in the back line, Cammy Hutchinson is very good too. I’ve been really impressed with our second rows, Callum Marshall and Adam Sinclair, the front row has also been really good. There’s also Jack McClean and Iain Wilson in the back row, there’s real quality in that pack and in the back line I could name even more, but they’re just a few of the standouts for me.”
Every coach is unique in they way they lead and develop their team, Kelly will look to use his attention to detail to help better his squad: “I’d like to bring what I believe to be beneficial to Heriot’s, from someone looking in from the outside, that’s detail in exits and detail in what they are doing the opposition twenty-two.
“Between the twenty-twos you can see that Phil’s style of play comes through, there are a lot of attacks and there are lots of running angles. I think I’ll bring a bit of detail in the nitty gritty bits at both ends of the pitch and that’s my aim moving forward for Heriot’s."
As with the players, the concept of Super6 is to bridge the gap between professional and amateur, providing a pathway for coaches too: “Now that I’m back in Scotland I would like to work my way up chain if I can. If I coach well enough with Heriot’s there may be opportunities with U20s or even one of the pro teams.
“At the end I would love to be in a pro team and see how far I could go. I really want to keep Heriot’s up there as one of the strongest clubs in Scotland, I’d love to win some silverware with them.”
Looking ahead to next season Kelly stated: “Although it’s still not a full-time job for the players, the level of commitment from the players will give us the success we want.
“I’ll be asking for a level of commitment that will be more than this season, that’s on and off the pitch. It’s a given that they have to work hard on the pitch but there’s really going to be an emphasis on doing your analysis off the pitch.
“I also believe they [the players] have a duty of care to grow the game as ambassadors as well, asking the players to do more work in the community, more work with other schools, try get them out there and building our Heriot’s brand and promoting Super6 rugby.”
With the season drawn to an early close, Kelly has been turning his hand to helping the club with off-field duties, as well as keeping the players engaged: “I’ve been able to be a part of the kit tendering process, we’ve been looking at the commercial side of things and how we can promote the club.
“I’ve been keeping the players ticking over, keeping them raring to go. We’ve been setting the players challenges each week, they’re in groups so it’s been good to get a bit of competition going.”
“Coming into Super6 as one of the newer coaches I think it’s a great initiative. It was obviously disappointing not to get the play-offs and final, it was building up to be a great set of games. I just hope that we can go ahead as planned for next season and have a really good level of competition”
Kelly was due to take over as Head Coach officially at the start of the Cross-Border competition, although he will have to wait until that start of next season before his Goldenacre side can take to the pitch to show off their skills, honed by an Edinburgh great and one of Scotland’s newest full-time head coaches.