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FEATURE Kyle Rowe: 'The day after I was made redundant, I saw the Glasgow boys training - that was brutal'

Kyle Rowe: 'The day after I was made redundant, I saw the Glasgow boys training - that was brutal'
7 months ago

Kyle Rowe gazes out through the glass-fronted Scotstoun media box, a window to his past and to his future.

Perched among the affluent homes and old-money streets that overlook the north stand are a cluster of tired apartment blocks. It’s these buildings the winger stares at intently.

“Not the nice flats,” Rowe says, gesturing towards the sleek new-builds and their gleaming balconies. “The 80s-style ones beneath them.”

It was here Rowe lived when he was let go by Scottish Rugby in late 2020, a sevens player with no sevens to play as covid took a sledgehammer to the sport; when his sporting aspirations evaporated and he wound up working nightshifts in an Amazon warehouse.

Every day, he’d open the curtains and be greeted by a savage gut-punch – the sight of his friends running around the pitch below. His fading dream being lived by others; tantalisingly close, yet painfully out of reach.

“The day after I was made redundant, I saw the Glasgow boys training. That was pretty brutal,” he says.

Kyle Rowe signed for Glasgow this summer after London Irish entered administration, casting him into uncertainty again (Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group/Glasgow Warriors)

“I had a week of trying to figure things out. The next thing was just trying to find temporary work. I knew Amazon wasn’t going to be long term but I needed to get money in the bank, I had bills to pay.

“It was depressing waking up at 2pm, seeing the boys training, knowing I’ve got to drive in to Amazon for a 6pm-2am shift. It took a toll on Rhona, my now-fiancee because she was working all day while I was sleeping, then I was away all night while she was sleeping.”

For several months, Rowe shunted boxes and prepared deliveries. A taste of the real world many elite players never truly experience. He had been an Under-20 international, and torn up trees in the Scottish domestic game, but somehow his career was flatlining before it had even begun.

“My mental health was in a pretty bad spot. Loads of people have said this during covid, and a lot of people lost jobs, but it did take a toll. I didn’t know if I was ever going to get the chance to play pro rugby.

It started off as a small snowball and all of a sudden it was humungous, and that was it, no more London Irish.

“I’d played a warm-up game for Glasgow during the 2019 World Cup but it was a pre-season game, you never got that real competition. Yeah, I’d played sevens as well but sevens and XVs are completely different.

“Just not knowing if I was ever going to get that chance was pretty hard on the mental health. It is tough to talk about. I have spoken about it enough that it still affects me, but I use it as motivation to not go back to that mental state. We looked at it as a stepping stone to, hopefully, bigger and better things.”

The near-three years since have been more turbulent than a canoe ride through the Bermuda Triangle. Rowe was given a short-term deal by Edinburgh, played a single Rainbow Cup match, then plucked from the doldrums by London Irish to spend the next season devouring the Premiership. He got ten tries in total, including a hat-trick against Saracens. That form compelled Gregor Townsend to select him in the Six Nations squad, and give him a debut on the summer tour of Argentina. Then things careered wildly off the rails.

Kyle Rowe scored a hat-trick for London Irish against Saracens, one of 10 tries in 23 games during 2021-22 (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

A dozen minutes into his first cap, Rowe ruptured his ACL. Those three letters bring rugby players out in cold sweats. He spent close to eight months out. Irish did not risk him in their quest to reach the Premiership semi-finals, and just as he was gearing up for a full pre-season, the club combusted in a haze of financial confusion, sorrow and rancour. Rowe was unemployed again.

“When the whole administration thing came about it was all pretty quick. We didn’t have any inkling until a couple of weeks before, we got paid late and it started coming out we were in trouble. It started off as a small snowball and all of a sudden it was humungous, and that was it, no more London Irish.

“It was what, nearly 125 years of history? They’re still playing down there but it’s only the amateurs. I felt for the boys who had come through the academy and played for London Irish all their lives, or the supporters who had followed London Irish from when they were kids. It was such a shame.

“I’ll be forever grateful to London Irish for giving me that chance. I definitely wouldn’t be here without them.”

Rowe and his agent scrabbled to secure a contract, but June is no time for wheeling and dealing. Squads are set and budgets exhausted. Besides, Rowe had a cap on his CV, but a concerning injury on his medical sheet.

But having toiled to find a home for him years earlier, Scottish Rugby were able to bring him north.

I was taking it all in, walking around the pitch and started welling up – I finally got to the position I thought I should have been in.

“I imagine clubs were probably more reluctant to take a chance on me which I completely understand. Some people don’t actually come back from an ACL injury. With the salary cap, most clubs would have done their recruitment and only had a small pot left for injury cover instead of a year-long contract.  It was a similar situation during covid, trying to find anything, anywhere that would take me.

“Scottish Rugby came in and offered me a contract at Glasgow. After a good couple of discussions with Rhona, it was probably the best decision for us, to come back up here, to be closer to family again, just have people around.

“It was a tough period but I don’t look back on it with any regret, I’m just happy I’m still playing pro rugby and I’m not going back to Amazon.”

In the course of the conversation, Rowe’s eyes become a little glassy more than once. He’s the kind of all-action, heart-on-the-sleeve tyro who thrives in a Franco Smith attack. He oozes hunger and personality when you watch him to go work. The game means so much to him, perhaps even more now it has been snatched away over and over.

Glasgow put out some beautiful footage of Rowe receiving his first Warriors jersey at Connacht a few weeks ago. Kyle Steyn, the captain, spoke about Rowe’s journey and how proud his team-mates were that he had come through it all. Rowe couldn’t get his words out, just nod and blink through the tears. His cap presentation in Argentina a year earlier, conducted with Rowe on crutches, is profoundly moving.

“It’s not relief, it’s just knowing what I’ve been through and how long it’s taken me to get to this point. The Glasgow one, I was taking it all in, walking around the pitch and started welling up – I finally got to the position I thought I should have been in before London Irish. It was knowing I am here and I don’t want to give it up.

“The Scotland one, you dream of playing for your country. If I get the chance at Murrayfield I know I’m going to be even worse. What I and my family have gone through, because they’ve been through every minute of it just as much as I have.”

A redundancy, a cap, a blown ACL and a club’s death. Few 25-year-olds can have experienced such turmoil in so short a career.

“My rugby journey has not been smooth sailing in the slightest. That whole thing with Amazon and other meaningless jobs I’ve done – working in a bar when I played for Falkirk at 20, then working in a Subway shop – it wasn’t anything to do with my rugby ability, it was just the circumstances I was dealt. That meant I had to be resilient.

“If things happen in rugby out of my control, I can’t help that. But I try and come in every day and not give coaches or anyone a reason to think I don’t want to be there.”

He wants it all right. Wants it with a full-blooded desperation. Wants never to relinquish his grip on these opportunities so hard-won.

Conversation turns back to the flats, looming opposite as if to offer a constant reminder of those dog days.

“I’ve been up there,” Rowe says, staring out of the window again, “looking down on the pitch wanting to be there. I want to be on a rugby pitch for as long as I can.

“I know it can be taken away from you so easily. It doesn’t last forever. It could last a year. It could last ten to fifteen. You just don’t know. I try to cherish every moment and hopefully the people watching can see that. I do care about playing rugby, I do want to show what I can do and how much playing a pro sport really does mean to me.”

Comments

3 Comments
N
Naas “Mkhize” Botha 213 days ago

All the best lad hope you remain injury free and get to play for Sco again

B
Brunhildes 215 days ago

Nothing but total admiration for him. The next time I suffer a major life blow, I’m going to remember this amazing story of resilience. Glad to see he’s getting the (very) hard-earned rewards now. And let’s all keep our fingers crossed he can play for another 8+ years at the top level. He deserves it.

G
Gillian 215 days ago

I never realised how tough things can be for sports people until a few years ago. I feel quite lucky to be in a job that is quite stable! All the best Kyle

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