Toronto’s Will Kelly: I don’t see myself playing anywhere else
Ten years ago, Toronto’s Will Kelly was setting out on the pathway that has led to him becoming a professional rugby player.
During the 2018/19 European season, Kelly had the opportunity to live in the South of Wales, representing the Dragons Academy and made his senior debut for Canada that season, coming off the bench against Brazil in the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC).
Representing the Arrows in their 2018 exhibition season, rugby is very much in Will’s blood, his father Stephen having represented Cambridge University before moving to Ontario and settling in the Province.
After finishing his time with Dragons at the conclusion of the 2019 ARC’s, Will trained with the Arrows weekly and helped prepare them for each game of that season. Signing on for the 2020 Major League Rugby season in that time, Will says that he is more than happy to be playing for his hometown team.
“The Ontario Men’s Senior team was something I really looked up to and wanted to play in when professional rugby wasn’t an option,” Will said. “Now with the Ontario Blues turning into the Ontario Arrows and now the Toronto Arrows, it is my home team and my home club.
“At this point in my career, I don’t see myself playing anywhere else or wanting to play anywhere else. There are other factors that come into these decisions, whether that be being able to stay close to family and friends, I am still at school in Hamilton (McMaster University).
“But the main thing for me right now is that I want to play for the Toronto Arrows, and I want to play for them as much as I can and as long as I can.”
In January, Rugby Ontario and the Toronto Arrows unveiled the logo and branding for the jointly run Ontario Blues Junior Arrows Academy. The Academy was launched last October and provides age-grade Ontario athletes with the opportunity to both train and learn from domestic and national coaches to ensure that players get the most from playing rugby.
Between October and September, the program was run safely and effectively in person before provincial restrictions meant that they program will now be online. Several Arrows will be leading sessions, including captain Lucas Rumball, who graduated the program before representing Canada and a professional rugby player with Toronto.
Will is yet another success story of the Ontario pathway that has now aligned itself with the Toronto Arrows. While ice hockey might have been Will’s early passion, watching the Ontario Blues inspired the fly-half to pursue the sport at the highest level possible.
“With the Canadian Rugby Championship, which is the provincial competition that the Canadian provinces play in, that has died off a bit, which is a big shame because I remember growing up and that was huge,” Will said. “You got to play against BC, Alberta and all of the other provinces to decide who is the best in the country.
“I know for Ontario, playing BC and the other teams was always a big thing and you would look forward for the whole year, so it is great to see that Rugby Ontario and the Arrows have lined it all up together. Those kids who would now be U14, U15 like when I was, I was thinking how I would love to play for the senior Blues.
“Now for them coming in and being called the Ontario Blues Junior Arrows Academy, they can come in and say ‘my goal is that I want to play for the Arrows’ and ‘I want to make the senior Arrows Academy and I want to play for the Arrows’.
“As I said before, I would love to be here for a long, long time, see that develop, see it keep growing and it would be amazing to see in maybe five or 10 years’ time a kid who started off in the U15 program is all of a sudden starting for the Arrows and winning championships and playing for Canada as well.
“That would be really cool and to be able to be part of that and to help a player coming in and supporting that Academy program is going to be great.”
In June, Will was unveiled as one of the first five Arrows that had resigned for the 2021 season. Having made two appearances from the bench in the much-shortened 2020 season, the 23-year-old re-signed along with Tomas de la Vega, Mitch Richardson, Tyler Rowland and Marcello Wainwright, with 21 more players also signing in order to return to Toronto.
Also bringing in the likes of Canadian-qualified Adrian Wadden, Jason Higgins, Marc-Antoine Ouellet and Siaki Vikilani, Argentina internationals Gaston Cortes and Joaquin Tuculet, as well as former Argentina 7s player Manuel Montero.
At the premature conclusion of the 2020 MLR season, Toronto sat on top of the Eastern Conference, their final game of the season a loss away to Colorado at Infinity Park. With their third season of professional rugby quickly approaching, it will still be many of the same names lining up for Chris Silverthorn’s side, giving Will confidence that the team can carry on as they were 12 months ago.
“In that first year and now, obviously we’ve signed some big names in Tuculet and guys that have been there and done it on the international stage, but in the first and second year especially, we jokingly say with each other that we were a bunch of no names,” Will said.
“Not many people knew of us, maybe some of the guys who had played for Canada but compared to other teams who are signing a Ben Foden in New York, Joe Pietersen in San Diego, who are quality top-level players, but for us, we have that consistency.
“Although we are a new team, some guys have played with each other for upwards of 10 years, so they knew how each other liked to play, their style of play and that transition was an advantage to us. We had an understanding of the way we wanted to play rugby and that we wanted our team to play and I think gave us a good base to start with.”
Recently, 12 Arrows took part in Rugby Canada’s November camp, with Will one of those to have made their way to the Al Charron National Training Center that took place over three weeks.
It was in this time that Arrows players got their first exposure to Rob Howley, who will not only be serving as an assistant coach for the Canadian Men’s Rugby Team, but as a consultant with the Toronto Arrows for at least the 2021 season.
Having lifted two English Premiership titles and the 2004 Heineken Cup as a player with Wasps, picking up 52 Wales caps and representing the British & Irish Lions on two tours, since his retirement nearly 17 years ago, Howley coached Wales as an assistant coach from 2008 and 2019, also taking the reins as Head Coach in 2013 and 2017 when Wales’ Head Coach, Warren Gatland, was engaged with Lions duties.
Having had that early exposure to the Welshman, Will says that he is already looking forward to working with the 50-year-old when he returns to Canada.
“He has got so much knowledge and has been at the peak of coaching when you really think about it,” Will said. “In the first week of the November camp, just that attention to detail, the way he looks at the game and is almost demanding perfection, whilst understanding perfection is not realistic.
“He is really on us about all the micro-skills that rugby players everywhere might get complacent with. He demanded a bit of respect from what he has done in his career and when he started talking, the boys started listening and we knew what he had to offer Rugby Canada and us at the Arrows as well. It is a great partnership.
“For me as a half-back as well, I am going to try and learn as much as I can. He has coached some of the best 10’s in the world and some of the best backs, so it is a really exciting time for me as a young fly-half coming through.”
At the start of February, Toronto announced that they will start the 2021 season in Marietta, Georgia. Due to the various Covid-19 restrictions in Canada, like their counterparts in basketball, baseball and soccer, Toronto’s quest to lift the MLR Shield will start on US soil.
Sharing Rugby ATL’s facilities for both training and for games, the team hope that they will be able to play in front of their home fans in 2021, but at least for now, Georgia will be home for the Canadians.
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