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RUGBYPASS+ Hot Rodd: Sale's dancing prop

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Hot Rodd: Sale's dancing prop

Picture the scene in the Sale Sharks dressing room: a bunch of huge men sup beer in near-silence that belies their come-from-behind victory over Leicester Tigers. These physically elite behemoths are, for the moment, rendered socially sheepish. Deep in the guts of Welford Road, nobody knows how to herald the first victory under new gaffer Alex Sanderson. Nobody wants to belt out the victory song chanted under Steve Diamond, his predecessor, who has left in bizarre circumstances. Nobody is quite sure what to do. Step forward a young prop packing, it soon becomes clear, some spectacular vocals.

“When Alex came in, they didn’t want to have the same post-match thing. We wanted something new, a new song,” says Bevan Rodd, the 21-year-old who has roared to prominence as a front-row star-in-the-making these past two seasons.

“Everything was kind of quiet and awkward for 30 seconds, no-one said anything. Out of nowhere, someone said, ‘come on, Bevan, you’ve got a song, haven’t you?’. So, I started singing Another One Bites the Dust, and slowly taking one item of clothing off after another.”

What else was there for it? We’ll come back to the changing-room highjinks shortly. Let us first explain how Rodd came to be sultrily disrobing for World Cup winners and rugby galacticos in one of the game’s greatest amphitheatres.

On his circuitous route to becoming Sale’s  premier loose-head and burgeoning member of Eddie Jones’ England squad, the influence of father Stephen is seldom far from the forefront. Not that he will be taking any credit for his son’s flamboyant undressing.

It was for Stephen’s legal career the family left Dunoon in southwest Scotland for the searing heat of Dubai when Rodd was a baby, settling a few years later on the Isle of Man. It was his stringent coaching which forced Rodd to work on finer elements of his game rather than simply bulldoze smaller peers. It is his timely reminders and little mementoes from darker times that ensure his boy never leaps aboard the hype train.

“I started playing rugby on the beach in Dubai,” Rodd tells RugbyPass+. “The British Army were around and it was a sign-up-to-distract-the-kids thing, playing some touch rugby.

“My dad moved out there to be a lawyer and somehow, I don’t know how, we ended up on the Isle of Man. He used to be my coach when I was about 10. I was a lot bigger than everyone so he wouldn’t let me score tries – he made me pass. We used to butt heads over that.

“It’s quite funny, when you’re brought up like that, and you know it’s coming from the right place, you can take anything.”

Stephen’s tough-love approach to coaching his giant son steeled Rodd for the challenges that lay ahead. Heinous injury, brutal discussions about the shortcomings in his game, and the emotional yank of boarding school on the mainland. Rodd was only 10 when enrolled at Sedbergh, a fabled rugby institution, where he quickly found he had been a very large fish in a small island pond.

England Training Session
Rodd (centre) is vying to make his England debut after training with Eddie Jones’ squad this week (Getty Images)

“The joke at Sale is that my parents don’t actually love me because they sent me away to Sedbergh at 10,” he laughs. “I hated my first term there. But it gets better. You start making friends, you are with them all the time.

“I went to Sedbergh as a fly-half. They said: ‘you’re too slow, try number eight… No, you’re too slow. You’re quite tall, try lock’. One summer, I came back and everyone grew apart from me. ‘Okay, try tight-head’.

“I played tight-head at school but loose-head when I got into the Sale academy. I enjoyed playing 10 but reality hit. Shame. Maybe one day…”

Reality has a habit of hitting where it hurts. Reality in elite rugby? Well, that beast packs quite the punch.

By 18, Rodd was full-time in the Sharks set-up, a big unit with a bigger engine and an appetite for plundering turnovers, when transition coach Neil Briggs pulled him aside. In the loose, Briggs said, the Sale supremos were impressed. When it came to Rodd’s scrummaging, though, the adjective of choice was “horrendous”.

“If anyone knows Briggsy, he doesn’t really sugar-coat anything, he tells it how it is. I wouldn’t have been the only academy lad to get that chat. Briggsy has been great. He’ll tell you when you play well, and tell you when you play shit.

“I’ve never known or seen anyone at 18 go straight into a Premiership scrum and dominate. It’s a work-on for everyone at that age.”

I had two options: wait for a bone donor, which could take three months, and then be out for eight or nine more. Or risk is, rehab for two months and play with it.

If Briggs’ one-on-one was chilling reminder of what it took to thrive in this rarefied world, rugby was about to throw another grenade Rodd’s way. He was 19 when he suffered devastating damage to his thigh bone (femur) late in a lower-league match. He fretted over what Sale would make of it when contract talks rolled around.

“I got my scan and found out the bottom of my femur was sheared. I had two options: wait for a bone donor, which could take three months, and then be out for eight or nine more. Or risk it, rehab for two months and play with it.

“You don’t want to be out that long so you’re like, ‘oh yeah, I’ll risk it’. Thirty seconds later, the guy comes in and tells my mum, ‘right, I may have found a match’. That is apparently really rare, it’s nearly impossible to find one that quickly. I was very, very lucky.

“There was a team option to terminate my contract that year but I’d played quite well in the Premiership Rugby Cup and warm-up games. There’s always that fear, especially when you’re young… ‘oh god, they’re not going to re-sign me, this is awful’. Coronavirus did help me a lot because it gave me an extra four months to rehab without playing on it. I managed to make four appearances at the end of the year.”

With Stephen’s help, Rodd remains self-effacing, spurred on by bitter experience as well as burning ambition.

He has ousted more wizened rivals to become Alex Sanderson’s first-choice loose-head, but the scrummage continues to irk him. He describes the set-piece as a “glaring” deficiency in his game. One particularly harrowing scrum, where the Sharks were pulverised by La Rochelle in their Champions Cup quarter-final monstering, gnaws at him still.

“That set the tone for the whole match. Even though every other scrum was solid, fine, clean ball, that scrum lives in my memory.

“My dad reminds me of that when I play well, to keep me grounded. He’s always got that – bringing me back down to earth.

La Rochelle thrashed Sale Sharks 45-21 in April (Getty Images)

“It’s coming to the point where I don’t want scrummaging to become a narrative. I don’t want to be known as, ‘oh, he’s good at rugby but he can’t scrum’. That’s stuck with me. It plays in your head a lot.

“And also attacking play. I feel like I offer nothing to Sale at the moment in attack, so I’m trying to develop that as much as possible.”

Taking a machine gun to his own performances seems unduly harsh, but perhaps this rigorous criticism has helped Rodd become a Premiership regular so young, and have both Gregor Townsend and Eddie Jones eager to cap him.

Although his mother is a proud Scot, Rodd has never felt a strong emotional pull towards the country of his birth. After much deliberation, he opted to rebuff the tartan charm offensive.

“My mum is very Scottish, but I was six months old when we moved,” he says. “Some people say, ‘come on, you’re born in Scotland, you need to be Scottish out-and-out’. I understand that but I don’t really have that connection with Scotland because I didn’t have that upbringing.

“There was interest from the Scottish coaches. It was surprising. They were giving me feedback on games and I had to have that awkward conversation of, ‘look, I’m flattered, but I’m going to go down the English route and feel more English than Scottish’.

I’m changing it up now, I’m running out of routines. Most weeks I’m not looking at plays, I’m trying to work out songs. I’ve done Amarillo – nice and cheesy.

“That was a really hard decision. It took a couple of weeks of running through the process, speaking to my mum and dad. My grandparents are Scottish, and the last thing I want is Scottish grandparents to be angry with me. It was tough, but hopefully I’ve made the right decision. Only time will tell.”

The turmoil of the warped femur, mercifully, is fading fast in the rear-view mirror. Rodd can hone his scrummaging and carrying and, almost as importantly, continue providing the Sharks with his unique form of post-match entertainment.

It was during a BT Sport interview last season when  Sanderson mischievously let slip about his prop’s hidden talent; part-karaoke, part-bellydance, part-striptease.

“I’m changing it up now, I’m running out of routines,” Rodd says. “Most weeks I’m not looking at plays, I’m trying to work out songs. I’ve done Amarillo – nice and cheesy. We Didn’t Start the Fire, you know that one?

“Ross Harrison says we should do an acapella thing, where eight lads come in singing, like the scene from Step Brothers in the car. If it’s someone’s debut, I’ll let them take it to embarrass them a bit.”

Three months on from the semi-final loss at Sandy Park, wounds are still raw. Exeter Chiefs had Sale’s number two weeks on the trot, consigning them to defeat in their first play-off outing since winning the title fifteen years ago. Progress under Sanderson is clear, but while their Springbok juggernauts are away playing Test rugby, there is a collective resolve to lay foundations for a grandstand campaign.

London Irish v Sale Sharks - Gallagher Premiership Rugby
Alex Sanderson has Sale Sharks progressing on an upward trajectory (Getty Images)

“The way last season ended was a bit annoying and still lives in everyone’s minds,” says Rodd.

“We know the names we’re missing. No-one has brought it up. This is our chance to prove we’re not just going to bend over.

“I’ve joined Sale in the glory years, but people like Ross, Tommy Taylor, Sam James, they were here when they were losing most weeks. It’s exciting the north, especially Manchester which is known for its football, has a rugby team trying to compete for the top.

“There are about six teams which can win the Premiership this year. We’ve got our goals set and are trying to do our jobs to make sure we’re lifting silverware.”

If Sale keep winning, Rodd will keep dancing.

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