'Second rows of his size and calibre are like teddy bear s***'
One of the downsides of the annual Guinness Six Nations is how the spotlight turns away from the Gallagher Premiership and some heartwarming stories don’t get the attention they would receive at other times in the calendar. Last month’s Sale debut by Dom Barrow was an example.
Not since a January 2019 Premiership Cup appearance for Northampton versus Leicester had he featured at club level in England. However, there he was last month, jumping off the mid-February AJ Bell bench to play as a sub for Sale and bridge that yawning 37-month gap.
What gives? It was March 2019 when he suddenly exited Frankin’s Gardens by “mutual consent” and after then apparently rejecting a switch to Japan, he announced in February 2020 that he was leaving behind rugby to focus on a managing director role with an electric vehicle charging point installation company.
Having started out at Leeds with a November 2010 debut and then played for Newcastle, Leicester and La Rochelle, that looked to be that as far as rugby was concerned for the lock who described as crushing the 2017 situation where he was named in an initial England squad for their summer trip to Argentina only to then be omitted when the tour party was confirmed.
However, his stint in the real world re-energised his passion for rugby and with Sale agreeing to take Barrow on a six-week trial, his vital statistics (6ft 7 and 120kgs) were always likely to impress Sharks boss Sanderson.
The second row Barrow hasn’t played since a second appearance as a replacement at Northampton on February 19, but Sale have every faith that their signing of a seasoned forward who only turns 29 next Saturday (March 19) will be richly rewarded in the long run. Quizzed by RugbyPass on why he was tempted into giving Barrow a shot despite his long time away from rugby, Sanderson explained that he knew just a week into the six-week trial he would be signing the one-time England prospect.
“It is unusual but he probably retired or had a sabbatical from the game at the best of times because of covid so he didn’t miss a lot of rugby. When everyone else would usually be progressing their game and getting fitter and stronger, he was out at that time just finding himself in terms of what he wanted out of life during that period. All the circumstances played into his hands for his time off.
“He hasn’t been involved the last couple of weeks because when he came on he jammed his knees together and got a mini fracture, like a bone fracture on his knee which was only a two or three-week thing, so he would have been involved the last couple of weeks as well which shows you how much we rate him and how far he has come.
“He has surprised me,” continued Sanderson about surprise Sale recruit Barrow. “He came on a trial agreement for six weeks and after seeing him move and talk within a week, I was like, ‘You’re good, we want you. We’ll sign you, your future is here’ – just to give him some kind of stability. That was a week after he came back which shows you the work that he had done away from here to get himself up to speed.
“He didn’t come in fresh, he came in having done runs around the park and he was talking to himself in rugby language, so he looked like a crazy person running about his local park. He is really, really studious because he was working nine to five and a little bit longer with his company.
“He now sees a rugby day as too short a day for him to fulfil his potential so he is first in, last out, catching up on all that lost time through an increased work ethic of what the real world is like. In terms of his maturation you often find that the rugby bubble is stark – players now just go from school into an academy into a professional environment and that is all they know.
“As a result, they are not as well rounded as a person as you find from those who have retired, who have worn a few scars through life, who understand what it is to be resilient. He has fast-tracked all of that in the time he has spent on reflection for what he wants and what he values in life, not just sport,” continued Sanderson whose Sale team continued their charge up the table with Saturday’s 26-24 win over Gloucester.
“So the conversations I have with him tend to be a little deeper, more on the level of St Peter’s than coach-player because he has had that experience away from a club which is why I get the thinking he is going to be a great, great signing for us. I think we will see the best of him, I really do. That’s the aim.
“We will see the best of him in an age where second rows of his size and calibre are like teddy bear s*** and he has just walked through the front door – I can’t believe my luck. We have both talked about the only thing that could derail him.
“Physically he is there, mentally he is on it, he is a really smart lad and the only thing that could derail him is if he loses his passion and his want and desire to play the game if he gets disenfranchised again. That is my job and his to make sure that he stays on track in motivational terms.”
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