By John Jones
When Elliot Kear led the Welsh team out for the first time to face France last Saturday, it must have felt like a dream come true.
Educated at the prestigious Whitchurch High School, Kear was seemingly always destined for international sporting success. After all, the school boasts two other international captains, in the shape of former Wales and Lions skipper Sam Warburton, and cult hero and Real Madrid star Gareth Bale, amongst its alumni.
This is made all the more impressive when you acknowledge that Kear, Bale and Warburton were all in the same school year, with current Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas a couple of years above.
Building upon his sporting education at WHS, Kear represented Cardiff Counties in rugby union throughout his teenage years, before making the switch to rugby league. Whilst his then-relatively short stature had held him back playing alongside the giants of union, Kear found himself excelling in the fast-paced environment of the league game, and has since gone on to have a somewhat interesting career.
Whilst playing for Cardiff Demons’ youth side, Kear was scouted by then-Celtic Crusaders coach John Dixon, and, after moving up through the club’s academy, made his first team Super League debut against Leeds Rhinos in 2009.
After a man of the match performance, and three years at the Crusaders, Kear was a man in demand, and signed for Bradford Bulls in 2012 after his former club disbanded, before making the surprise decision to cross codes and represent London Welsh for one season in the Aviva Premiership two years later.
Ultimately, the Welshman arrived at London Broncos in 2015, and quickly established himself as the starting fullback at the club. Across 101 appearances for the club, Kear has scored 32 tries, and, earlier this month, helped his team to a shock 4-2 victory over the Toronto Wolfpack in the final ever Million Pound Game, to catapult them back into the Super League.
This was not the only positive development in Kear’s career this autumn as, with 24 caps for his country, he was handed the Wales captaincy, after Craig Kopczak retired from Test rugby earlier in the year.
In his first game as captain, Kear was tasked with leading his team to victory over France in their opening fixture in the European Championships.
Having been brushed aside by England in a 44-6 demolition ten days earlier, Aurélien Cologni’s men had a serious point to prove, and showed this by dominating the early stages, racing into a 14-0 lead in as many minutes.
Sloppy passing and a lack of discipline in defence were Wales’ undoing in the first half, as Paul Marcon sped down the wing to cross for his second try, before Bastien Ader burst through the Welsh line to make it 26-0.
Whilst Wales were down, however, they were certainly not out, and launched a period of sustained pressure upon the French defence, which ultimately saw Josh Ralph snake his way through to cross.
There was also some delight for Kear himself, as a period of neat passing left him in space to score, with the subsequent conversion reducing the deficit to 14 points at the break.
However, the Dragons could not carry this momentum into the second half, as their young defence were exploited by searching kicks from Marcon and co., and France notched up their fifth, sixth and seventh tries to race into an unassailable 30-point lead.
Whilst some smart substitutions helped kept the French at bay momentarily, after James Olds grabbed a consolation debut try, the home side scored twice more in the closing minutes, running out as 54-18 winners.
With Scotland and Ireland to face in the coming weeks, Wales certainly have work to do if they wish to successfully defend their title. Nevertheless, Welsh coach John Kear – no relation to Elliot – recognises that the majority of his team are still young and in development, and is confident they can bounce back with a win.
Whilst Kear may have suffered a crushing defeat on his first outing as captain, his promotion has continued Whitchurch High School’s tradition of producing elite sporting talent – a tradition that Welsh sport fans will hope to see continue for years to come.