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FEATURE 'Two years ago I was on building sites': Rhys Litterick, from landscaping graft to a date with Antoine Dupont

'Two years ago I was on building sites': Rhys Litterick, from landscaping graft to a date with Antoine Dupont
6 months ago

The adjectives tumble out of a chuckling Rhys Litterick like sweets from a pinata.

“Unbelievable,” he says. “Nuts. Mental.”

The Cardiff prop is talking about his unlikely showstopper act last Friday, the 82nd-minute try at the Arms Park which sunk the Stormers and sent the place wild. A team he’d grown up watching in Super Rugby but never truly believed he’d face. The first try he’d scored since trundling around playing mini rugby on a West Sussex park.

“I was shocked. All the lads jumping all over you, screaming your name. They’re the moments you train for. It’s up there with the best feelings, scoring that try. I can’t remember the last time I scored one.”

The match-winner was extraordinary not just because of Litterick’s less than prolific record, but because of where he’s been and what he’s come through.

As recently as two years ago, Litterick worked as a landscaper while playing semi-professional rugby for Worthing in England’s fourth tier. No Premiership club was taken by his talent. No place in a shiny academy up for grabs. Litterick went a year without playing at all during the pandemic, which dynamited his prospective move up a level to Blackheath.

He shovelled and lifted and grafted through the week, trained in the evenings, and played on the weekends. He liked the job, but he worried his dream of playing professionally was slipping away.

Rhys Litterick, right, has forced his way into the Cardiff matchday 23 (Photo by Rhys Litterick)

“You have to get up at silly o’ clock and go to work,” he remembers. “I was doing hard landscaping so it wasn’t good for the body. You have to be mentally tough.

“I was working in people’s gardens, building walls, paving, digging, driving a dumper truck. You have to work all day, then go to the gym Monday, training Tuesday night, gym Wednesday, train Thursday night, then Saturday you could be playing on the other side of England, a four-hour coach journey away.

“I did really enjoy landscaping. But I wanted to play rugby, that was the goal. Covid hit and I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen.”

The silver lining was savage, real-world game time. These divisions are the domain of wizened props who salivate when the next fresh young rookie is pitted against them.

“My debut for Worthing against Rams, I came off the bench pretty early and got yellow carded from scrum penalties. Some old boy, he was bald, he was just chewing me up. He humbled me. I didn’t know what I was doing. There’s no hiding place in the scrum. If it’s going bad, it’s obvious. The scrum is your bread and butter as a tighthead. It was massive for me.

I saw the Premiership Cup games as big opportunity to prove I can play at this level and I feel like I took that opportunity.

“But it has definitely benefitted me playing. Lads in academies don’t get much game time. That is crucial. The National Leagues are a good standard. Especially as a prop, you can get taught a lesson.”

Litterick’s golden ticket arrived when Jordan Turner-Hall took charge at the club. Forced to retire at 27, the Stoop mainstay combined his Harlequins academy role with the top job at Worthing. Quins needed a tight-head for an A-league game and Turner-Hall liked what he saw. A fortnight later, Litterick was offered the contract he feared would never come. And so, incredibly, he entered the realm of legends.

“You turn up, get your kit, and you’ve got all your big names there – Joe Marler is training, Adam Jones is coaching you. You go from watching them on TV to all of a sudden speaking to them about your scrum technique.

“You want to be a sponge around Adam Jones. He is very honest. His detail, your foot placement, your bind – it helps massively. You get one little thing wrong in the scrum and you’re getting dished up. He was class to work under.

“The intensity of training every single day, instead of just two nights a week, was different. I saw the Premiership Cup games as big opportunity to prove I can play at this level and I feel like I took that opportunity.”

Naturally, minutes were hard to come by with the reigning Premiership champions. Litterick was loaned to Esher in National One, then London Scottish in the Championship. More exposure, more learning, more scrum pain.

Jordan Turner-Hall looks on during the Premiership Rugby Cup match between Harlequins and Saracens 

But after a couple of seasons, at 24 years old, Litterick was no longer sated. His father, Kevin, is a born-and-bred Welshman and as the regions wheezed beneath untold financial pressure, Cardiff were on the hunt for reinforcements. Litterick’s Welsh roots sweetened the deal.

And how he has seized the chance to shine week to week. He dismantled the Scarlets pack, scrummaged well against a monstrous Bulls eight, played 80 minutes against Zebre Parma and of course, stupefied the Stormers with his thrilling salvo.

“I didn’t think I’d walk in to the team straight away; I’d have to earn the right to play. I could have stayed at Quins but I thought it was a smart move – get out my comfort zone and push.

Eyes are being cast from the north too. Kevin’s father was an RAF officer from Glasgow and the talent-spotters at Scottish Rugby are aware of Litterick’s progress.

“The change has been mental. You train through the week to play on the Saturday. You go from not being in the 23, just training, wanting to put this into practice to now. All I’m concentrating on is staying in that 23.”

None of this has gone unnoticed. International rugby still feels a distant prospect but things can change so quickly in this game. You’d imagine the Welsh selectors will be following his development with interest.

Eyes are being cast from the north too. Kevin’s father was an RAF officer from Glasgow and the talent-spotters at Scottish Rugby are aware of Litterick’s progress.

Rhys Litterick
Rhys Litterick started out with Harlequins but his Welsh roots sweetened the deal with Cardiff (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

These are tantalising thoughts, but it’s no use fixating on them right now. Not so early in his pro journey, with only a handful of URC matches to his name. Not when the challenge in front of his face is so enormous and so intoxicating.

Cardiff are soon to set foot in the lions’ den. Stade Ernest Wallon. The globetrotting all-stars of Toulouse. Two years ago, Litterick was toiling in gardens and on building sites. Now, he’s got a date with Antoine Dupont.

“Going out there, playing against those players, that’s where you really test yourself. The move to Cardiff is working.

“You do sit back and go, bloody hell, I was diggin’ holes for eight hours and training after. I’m just loving it – loving being in the 23, loving playing.”

Comments

1 Comment
p
phil 191 days ago

👏👏👏

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