A warrior walks away

Veteran Rod Snow says it was time to leave the game that made him a legend

Published on August 26, 2012
Newfoundland’s Rod Snow (shown here with ball against Prairie Wolf Pack) has retired from rugby after an outstanding professional and amateur career.  —Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Rod Snow always knew this time would come.

Poets talk about the warrior who bows his head, lays down his shield and walks off the battle field.

Some weeks ago, while participating in an exhibition match with The Rock against Eastern Canada at Swilers Complex, it became obvious to the 42-year-old that it was time to leave the stage where he’d starred for so many years on the pro and amateur level.

“I’m still a big, strong, proud guy, but that game signaled the end for me,” said Snow, who retires from the game as a Canadian legend.

Snow said he had a sense early this year — if he could finish it — that it would be his final one.

“During the last game I played, I felt it took all I had to survive in certain parts of it,” he said. “There are certain stages in your career when you fight to survive in a game and you learn from it and come out a better player.

“But,” he added, “there are other stages when you have to fight to survive in a game and you learn it’s time to go.”

He leaves the sport without any regrets.

He’s proud he stuck around as long as he did, play on some great teams and win some memorable games and national championships.

An uncompromising player, he was once described on the BBC Sport website as, “tough as old boots.”

Then there’s his powerful running and massive tackling that brought spectators to their feet.

Pat Parfrey, a long-time coach and The Rock’s director of rugby, calls Snow, “The greatest athlete Newfoundland has seen.”

Snow, who has earned 62 caps for his country, made his debut for Canada in Argentina in 1995.  

He went on to play professionally in South Africa for Eastern Province in 1995, before joining Newport RFC the following year.

“He was a legend at his professional club in Wales,” noted Parfrey, of the place Snow played for 10 years. On the international scene, Snow was a core player for Canada in four successive Rugby World Cups (1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007).

Newport's official website called him, “one of the most popular players ever to don the black and amber shirt.”

When Snow returned from Wales, he decided to get back involved in the local rugby scene to give something back to the game.

Although he contemplated retiring as far back as 2006, he decided to stay around to help The Rock become a force to be reckoned with in Canadian senior rugby.

He said he believes that if he’d quit playing one or two years after moving back to Newfoundland in 2005, it would have been, “an act of selfishness.”

He admits he was hurting physically at times and was far less than his best, “but I still had something to offer.”

Add, he added, “The Rock has a spirit that’s hard to walk away from.”

Born in Bonavista, Snow moved with his family to Labrador City in 1974 and Mount Pearl 10 years later where he played high school and junior hockey. He began his senior club rugby with the Mount Pearl-based team Dogs RFC.

Snow’s been taking it “season by season,” for the past five or six years, but when called on, he always made himself available to play for his province.

“He was a warrior in a contact sport who carried teams forward,” Parfrey said. “However, it was probably his return to Newfoundland at age 35 that made us most proud of him, because instead of retiring, he decided to play for The Rock.”

Parfrey said, at the time, his addition helped transform the team into national champions.

He said Snow dominated in the most critical position in rugby (tight head prop) and was a key player as The Rock won four national championships, including the last title in 2010 when he was 40.

“He was the best scrummaging prop in Canada when The Rock defeated British Columbia, Ontario and the Prairies to win the Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) league,” said Parfrey.

Parfrey said Snow is special because of the sustained excellence of his play at the national and international competition over four decades.

Current Canadian men’s national team coach Kieran Crowley didn’t have the opportunity to coach Snow but noted, “His playing record speaks for itself and his contribution to the sport demonstrates his passion for the game.”

Former Canadian coach Ric “Sluggo” Suggitt said he was “privileged” to coach Snow during the 2007 World Cup campaign.

“Playing in the front row, Snow had sustained a fair amount of wear and tear on his body over his international and professional career,”  noted Suggitt, who now coaches the United States women’s sevens team.

“In the 2007 World Cup, we attempted to rest him a bit at training sessions to save his legs for Test matches. Being the proud competitor he is, he would have nothing to do with it. As proud and fearless as he was on the field,” added Suggitt, “he was equally honest, fun loving and no nonsense off the field. You ask Rod a question you get the honest answer. If you don’t want hear the answer, do not ask him the question.”

One memory Suggitt says of Snow that brings a smile to his face was when Canada played the World Cup qualifier in St. John’s.

“Rod had a great game and scored a fantastic try against our arch rivals (U.S.) at the time. Needless to say, the home crowd went a little crazy and Cod, as we called him, was able to show off that toothless grin to his to family and friends.”

While all of the accolades are fine and deserving, playing rugby at the level Snow has played for so many years has taken its toll on his 5-foot-11, 270-pound body, as Suggitt suggested.

Snow said he has been very fortunate not to have had any “major injuries,” before noting he’s had five arthroscopic surgeries on his right knee and two on the left. He suffered several concussions and has broken or dislocated “lots of fingers” while suffering a few stitches in his head and face.

“Generally, I’ve been very lucky,” Snow said, before adding that his neck and shoulders are arthritic and he played with a broken a bone in his neck which wasn’t detected until after an MRI some years later.

Lucky, it seems, is a relative term