The Gallagher Premiership’s most voracious tackler kept his technique ticking over during the lockdown by wrestling cattle on a Zimbabwean farm. England’s top-flight remains indefinitely suspended with no firm indication yet of a restart date. 

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However, that absence of a return-to-play date hasn’t led to Sale Sharks Jono Ross taking things easy. Instead, having spent some time on his wife’s family farm near Bulawayo, he took a refined approach to training to ensure his tackling technique remains razor-sharp for the end of the 2019/20 season.

Ross was on course for a third successive season of making more than 300 tackles in the Premiership before the Covid-19 pandemic brought a halt to the campaign after just 13 of the 22 rounds of fixtures were played. The Sale player was on 201 successful hits following his club’s last outing, the 39-0 AJ Bell Stadium hammering of London Irish on March 6. 

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Nine weeks later, he has revealed that he recently kept himself busy with cattle, mending tractors, welding and fishing while also following the individual programme devised for every Sale player by the club’s strength and conditioning team.

“We were working with cattle and so I was doing a bit of contact work,” said Ross to RugbyPass. “Having to wrestle with calves and work with the cattle during long days was good. During the year we take enough contact, so this six weeks lets the body rest up a bit and just stay strong.

“I wouldn’t do a lot of contact during a normal off-season and this is almost like that depending on what the Government says the goal is to get back playing as soon as possible. At a time of uncertainty like this, it is important people go back and spend time with family and the club felt the same.

“My father-in-law has quite a bit of gym equipment, including a bench and weights, and I worked pretty much as normal. The farm was an essential service, so everything was open and I was able to run and do sprints. 

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“From a training perspective it was really good and I did that most days. Our conditioners put together a pretty comprehensive programme for the guys. The backs have been having some Zoom calls to go through things and we have to check in online on our wellbeing app three times a week.”

Ross has become the first of Sale’s crucial African contingent to return to Manchester in preparation for the potential resumption of a Gallagher Premiership where Steve Diamond’s club lie in second place behind Exeter. 

The majority of their high profile overseas signings – including World Cup winners Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jaeger, and the three du Preez brothers Rob, Dan and Jean-Luc – took the opportunity to fly back to South Africa spend the lockdown period with their families.

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Amid increasing discussions about when the lockdown may be relaxed to allow sport to return under strict guidelines, Ross opted to make the journey back to Manchester which involved a flight via Ethiopia to Heathrow, swapping the lockdown rules in Zimbabwe for those being followed in the UK.

“My wife and I flew back to South Africa and then onto the farm in Zimbabwe. It then got to a stage where there was a lot of talk about sport starting up again, so we returned here. 

“That involved a five-hour drive to Harare, flight to Ethiopia and then to London. We were very careful in Zimbabwe ensuring we were as safe and responsible as possible. On the farm, we didn’t come in contact with anyone for those six weeks and we are fine.

“The lockdown in Zimbabwe and South Africa sounds as if it was stricter than in the UK. In South Africa, for six weeks you weren’t allowed to exercise.”

The interruption to the season has allowed injured players like ex-Sale captain Josh Beaumont (knee) and USA Eagles out-half AJ MacGinty (shoulder) to give themselves a chance of playing some part in the club’s bid for a second Premiership title. 

“We have to look at things in a positive light and guys like Josh and AJ are getting back from their injuries. There is frustration that we couldn’t play the Premiership Rugby Cup final (against Harlequins) but safety is paramount and all the right calls were made. 

“We have to make the best of a bad moment because the break wasn’t ideal and hopefully we can start up where we left off. The hope is that we can finish this season but lives are being lost and we have to follow the Government advice.

“There has been talk around the world about how sport could give people a lift. It may not be the same being on TV without crowds but the quicker we can get playing the better.”

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