AFTER suffering a string of injuries during the first half of the season, Gareth Kelly is back in action and hoping to fire Basingstoke to promotion from London One South.
The winger, who was ’Stoke’s leading try-scorer last season, spent a lot of time watching frustrated from the sidelines before Christmas and is delighted to be back to full fitness.
“It has been frustrating,” the 22-year-old said. “I pulled my groin in pre-season, came back from that and suffered a dead leg. Then, as soon as I was over that, I tore my hamstring, which kept me out until the start of this year.
“Hopefully that’s the end of it now. It was tough though and I’m pleased to be back in contention. It’s great to be back firing on all cylinders.”
Kelly’s return has given director of rugby James Croker even more options in an area where he was already blessed.
Karl Buttle and Gavin Dampies have done an excellent job as the club’s first choice wingers in Kelly’s absence, while Ashley Paterson has established himself at full-back.
All three have been scoring tries on a regular basis – but Croker showed great faith in Kelly by bringing him straight into the side for last month’s crucial clash against Chichester.
Kelly repaid that by scoring a try as ’Stoke claimed a vital victory, but he admits that he was surprised to get the call.
“I thought I would have to play a couple of games for the seconds before I got a chance to play for the first team again, so I was surprised to get back into the team so quickly,” he said.
“I was really worried that I would not get back into the team because the competition for places is so high. I was really nervous at the start of my first game back but it’s going well. I managed to score in my first game back – and it was against Chichester as well, which made it even better.
“I think I’m playing well and hopefully I can keep my place in the team. Karl Buttle and Gavin Dampies are really good wingers so we are really strong in that area.
"Everyone wants to play every game but the competition will make me a better player and it’s a good thing for the team.”
If Croker decides to try and play all four speedsters, one option may be to deploy Kelly at outside centre, especially if Freddie Gleadowe is unavailable.
It was an option tried in the away game against Chichester earlier this season and, while not a success on that occasion, Kelly would like to be given a second chance.
“I would like to give it another go at centre,” he said. “I did not have a great game when I played there against Chichester but I would like to play there again to mix things up a bit.
“You are more involved at centre, there’s less standing around waiting for something to happen, which can get annoying. That’s something I can change though, by coming in off the wing and getting involved.”
Having beaten Chichester last month, Basingstoke are now hot on the heels of the Sussex side in the race for second place and a promotion play-off.
“There’s quite a lot of pressure on us at the moment because we really have to win every game,” Kelly added. “It’s vital that we avoid complacency because one slip would make things very difficult. We just need to keep playing the way we have been of late and make sure we get the right results.
"It would be great to get promoted and if we were to go up, I think we have got enough to compete a division higher.”