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Is he big enough? Can he play with the same physicality on the international level? These are the questions people asked about Seamus Kelly from the time he was a high school standout at Xavier on through his illustrious career at Cal.
With another workmanlike performance against Scotland Saturday, Kelly continues to answer with a resounding yes. Dislodging balls, decleating opponents and burrowing for positive yardage are the things Kelly does well, and with each cap, he’s doing them with more frequency.
“I’ve really liked what Seamus has done since he’s been with us. When he came on, his first test was Ireland, and he had a great game. He had a lot of yards running. He had some big hits. I think he was one of the leaders in tackles,” said USA coach Mike Tolkin, who coached Kelly in high school.
“Each game he had a couple of hiccups – a few dropped balls. But he is getting a sense of international rugby. He is a great defender. He runs hard, and he makes yardage, chases kicks and makes tackles. The whole staff is really pleased with him, and he’ll just get better and better.”
In addition to the tangible benefits, Kelly brings a mean streak. He’ll occasionally linger on top of a guy he just smeared across the turf to let him know he’s coming back. And Kelly adds that extra few pounds of pressure in his tackles, not unlike the guy who donned the No. 13 jersey for the USA much of the decade prior to his emergence.
“Seamus is just one of those guys who is angry at the opposition, in the way that a Danny Barrett hates the opposition and is really ruthless in the way he plays the game,” said Tolkin. “That’s been a big part of his success, and he’s always been that way.”
“I think I’m a competitor, and when you step between these lines, you have to change a bit,” said Kelly. “The great thing about the game of rugby is you can get in between these lines, you can slug it out for 80 minutes, 14 minutes, whatever it is, and after a physical contest like that, the mutual respect once you’re off the field is something pretty special.
“But, yeah, I’m here to win, whatever it takes.”