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A year after making her England debut, Red Roses wing Kelly Smith is gearing up for the Six Nations again as the top try scorer in the Tyrrells Premier 15s with Gloucester-Hartpury. She talks about her journey into the game, pre-match nerves and what it means to wear the rose.
At the age of nine you don’t really have much fear, nothing scares you so you just fly in. Boys would be more interested in the glory like scoring tries. I didn’t really get that opportunity as they wouldn’t pass to me, but I’d be stopping them.
It was one Sunday morning as a family we went to watch my brother play at Widden Old Boys and I’d stand on the side of the pitch and I’d just be swinging on the rails, just messing around with my sister.
I remember my dad saying ‘stand still’ and it at that point thinking how I don’t want to be cold, I don’t want to just watch him as that's boring, so I joined in.
I was the only girl on the team. It was often quite frustrating as I wouldn’t get as much of the ball passed to me. I remember one match playing a team and the opposition coach saying ‘watch that girl, she’s the only one that will tackle properly.’ That felt pretty phenomenal as the boys always felt as if they knew what they were doing, so it was great to get that praise.
I was an all-round sportsperson when I was younger so I did swimming, athletics, netball and I loved to do it all, but at the age of 15 I stopped all that and rugby was in the equation more than anything else.
That was where I started to concentrate on it and where it progressed. I enjoyed rugby and I loved all the things that go with it.
Fallen into place
My dad was always my biggest coach and did everything to help me, but would also compare me and my brother.
That could sometimes be an issue, and still is. He was winger and my brother is a forward so you always get that competition - it’s healthy I suppose. They want to talk about it and have conversations over the dinner table whereas I always think we could talk about something else.
When you first get into a game you are nervous, that’s absolutely natural. As soon as you get that first touch of the ball, you beat that one defender, then you get another touch or you score, you just want to go again and you get that hunger for it. That is what I love about it.
Especially this season where I’ve been scoring, the confidence that gives you is phenomenal and I always look forward to the next game.
Scoring has never been completely natural to me, even for a winger. This season it just seems to have all fallen into place.
How far you've come
The last Six Nations was my first time in this environment and it’s really scary where you’re a little fish in a big pond. You don’t know certain things but then the older girls are there to help you. Now I feel I’m finding my feet a bit more and I don’t need as much help as I used to.
My full debut was interesting. I was very nervous. I went onto the pitch off the bench and needed to do something to calm my nerves.
Within the first five minutes once you get that first carry or first tackle you just calm down. You’ve got the likes of Katy Daley-Mclean telling you everything’s going to be OK, how it is just a game of rugby that you play every week - it’s then you realise you’re OK.
It’s quite emotional when you stand and sing the national anthem and that’s when you realise how far you’ve come.
I’m quite a chilled person before a game as I know what I’m doing, know how I warm up but when it comes to the national anthem I do look for my family.
Having your family in the crowd watching you is amazing. I always get the question, ‘did you see us as we were waving?’ and I’m like ‘no, I honestly cannot see you!'. It sort of helps me a little bit if I don’t see them as I don’t know where they are and I can just get on with what I need to do.