No. 4 Rod Snow

Rugby's finest warrior has represented Canada more than any other Newfoundland athlete

Published on August 2, 2008

Out of sight of Newfoundland for the better part of his rugby career, Rod Snow nonetheless was never really out of mind for folks in his home province.

Therefore, the level of local appreciation of his accomplishments on the pitch - at the professional level and for Canada internationally - is such that Snow stands at No. 4 on The Telegram's list of Newfoundland and Labrador's top 10 athlete.

Out of sight of Newfoundland for the better part of his rugby career, Rod Snow nonetheless was never really out of mind for folks in his home province.

Therefore, the level of local appreciation of his accomplishments on the pitch - at the professional level and for Canada internationally - is such that Snow stands at No. 4 on The Telegram's list of Newfoundland and Labrador's top 10 athlete.

"As tough as old boots and equally long-lived, Rod Snow is the rock around which Canada is built," proclaimed the BBC in it's preview of the 2003 World Cup of Rugby.

That description was added to a couple of years later in a Telegram profile on the player, who was listed at 5-11 and 250 pounds during his playing days with the Newport of the Welsh Rugby Union.

"If granite blocks were stacked and turned into a human form, Snow would likely be the end product."

And old favourite in Newport

But while Snow was - and is sill is - a notable physical presence on the pitch, it was his uncompromising use of that presence, combined with tenacity and often unsung skill, that made him Newfoundland's greatest rugby player, a Canadian icon in the sport and hero in Wales, where rugby is akin to hockey in Canada.

Snow played for a decade in Newport, the high point coming in 2001 when he helped the Black and Ambers win their first Principality Cup (formerly the Welsh Cup) national championship in 24 years.

"Rod's a hero in Newport," said former teammate Joe Powell while visiting Mount Pearl in 2001. "He's very popular and was named player of the year. Because he was on the club through the thin times, the fans appreciate him even more."

An article by Stephen Jones, one of the most respected rugby writers in Britain, described Snow some years ago as, "one of the great running props of the era" and "one of the most striking and respected and beloved players" on the Welsh rugby scene.

"At Rodney Parade (where Snow played)," wrote Jones, "there is no noise like the noise that rises when Snow gets the ball. It is typical of him that he was so consistent and passionate in his play when Newport was so dreadful (in the past).

"It is no exaggeration to say Snow will go down in Newport's history as one of the heroes ... perhaps not in terms of sheer rugby class, but for heart and passion."

Jones's conclusion to the piece?

"There is no finer warrior playing the sport," he stated.

And the scope of those finishing lines didn't stop at the Welsh border. Snow's reputation as an relentless gladiator extended world-wide and saw it's first development during the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.

Snow scored a try for Canada against Romania in his very first World Cup game - one of his favourite memories in the sport - but is perhaps best known for being sent off - along with teammate Gareth Rees and a South African player - for his part in an all-out brawl during a game against the host Springboks.

Snow had no part in starting the brouhaha, but did not hesitate joining the battle.

South Africa marked the first of four appearances for Snow in the World Cup of Rugby, which is the third largest international sporting event in the world, exceeded only by the World Cup of Soccer and the Summer Olympics.

He also participated in World Cups in 1999 (Wales), 2003 (Australia) and 2007 (France), coming out of a three-year international retirement to play in the latter tourney. In fact, at 37, Snow was the event's oldest player.

By the time the 2007 World Cup was finished, Snow had 61 caps, representing more international appearances than any other prop in Canadian rugby history and any athlete - in any sport - in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Pat Parfrey, the godfather of Newfoundland rugby and coach of Canada's 1999 World Cup entry, summed up Snow's career succinctly.

"Rod played 10 years of pro rugby with the same team, which tells you a lot about his ability and character," said Parfrey. "He's not only this province's best rugby player, he's one of the best rugby players Canada has ever had."

Born in Bonavista, Snow moved with his family to Labrador City in 1974 and Mount Pearl 10 years later. He graduated from Mount Pearl senior high in 1988 and later earned a physical education degree from Memorial University.

He started playing rugby with the Dogs club in Mount Pearl - although his first sports love was hockey.

"Hockey was my passion when I was a kid, but I wasn't a great player," he said in an interview for The Telegram's 20 Questions feature.

"I knew what I was good at and I went out and got the job done. But I was a mediocre player."

Still, his size got him noticed by hockey scouts - there were even some offers of tryouts from Ontario junior teams, ones he regrets not taking up. But he did progress in rugby, in large part because he heeded the advice of mentors.

From back to front

"I started out in the back row, but I soon realized I wouldn't make the switch to international rugby playing in that position," Snow told The Telegram. "With the advice of Pat (Parfrey) and other Canadian coaches, I switched to the front row and learned to play a new position.

"I trusted those people, and using the physical skills I had, I was able to take that advice and it worked out for me."

He made his Canadian debut in 1995 against Argentina. His third game internationally was that World Cup match against Romania. The try he scored was Canada's first of the game in what would turn out to be a 33-12 victory.

"I went there not knowing if I'd play a single game. I was inexperienced, young, and didn't see the coaches selecting me to play," recalled Snow during the 20 Questions interview. "After hearing the national anthem, I remember looking up at the flag and thinking, 'God, how lucky am I?'

"I'm always thankful for what I've got, because lots of people do work as hard as me and don't have the same success. So, I've been very fortunate."

In 1996, he was back in South Africa, having left his job as a personal trainer in St. John's to take up an offer with a pro team in Port Elizabeth. That experience wasn't a great one, but his fortunes soon changed as a result of a meeting in London with Rees, his teammate and good friend, who was teaching at Eton College.

It was Rees who suggested Snow look into playing for Newport.

That conversation led to Snow's decade-long stay in Wales, one which ended in 2005, with the Newport side dedicating that season to Snow's career and giving him the rare honour of a testimonial game and dinner.

That year, he returned to Newfoundland, where he helped the Rock to two Rugby Canada Super League championships.

Snow always insisted it was an honour to play for Newfoundland, just as it had been to play for Canada, in large part because it gave him a chance to repay and honour those who helped him early in his career.

"People like Tom Jacobs and Pat Parfrey have put their life and soul into rugby here, and if I get opportunity to help local rugby out, it will all be worth it," he said.

Still, his best work in the giving-back department may have come off the pitch, as project manager during development and construction of the recently-completed provincial training centre, the PowerPlex.

Today, he's the centre's high-performance director and facilities manager.

It's a job, for sure, but for Snow, there's some duty involved, too.

"When I went to Wales, I quickly learned that to be part of the community, I had to do more than play rugby on Saturday. I had to give something back to the community," he said.

Selection criteria

The object: To select the 10 best athletes Newfoundland and Labrador has produced. Seven prominent individuals with an impressive sports background, together with Robin Short, Brendan McCarthy and John Browne of The Telegram's sports department, were chosen to make the selections.
The criteria: Athletes must have been born in Newfoundland and Labrador and spent a large part of their development years within the province. The field was open to amateur and professional, and male and female athletes.
The selection panel
John McGrath: A former Newfoundland soccer president, McGrath is chairman of the board of governors for the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame.
Brian Brocklehurst: A two-sport star in St. John's during the late 1960s and '70s, Brocklehurst was the 1969 St. John's athlete of the year.
Don Johnson: A former president of both the Canadian and Newfoundland amateur hockey associations, Johnson was also head of the St. John's Senior Men's Softball League and Royal St. John's Regatta Committee. He has served on the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and Canada Games Council.
Roger Grimes: Otherwise known as a former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, those in sports know him as an erstwhile Grand Falls Cataracts senior hockey player and Grand Falls Beothuks senior baseball player.
Terry Hart: Another Grand Falls-Windsor native, Hart has broadcasted local sports for over 30 years. He continues in radio today at VOCM.
Glenn Stanford: He's known most recently as the man who ran the St. John's Maple Leafs for 14 seasons. But before that, Stanford was a two-sport star - basketball and soccer - with Holy Cross and Memorial.
Alan (Tex) Seaborn: Seaborn has had a long-standing involvement with the Corner Brook and Newfoundland baseball associations. He served as vice-chairman and vice-president of sport for the 1999 Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook.

Top 10 best athletes

1. TBA -Aug. 23, 2008
2. TBA -Aug. 16, 2008
3. TBA -Aug. 9, 2008
4. Rod Snow
5. Carl English
6. Daniel Cleary
7. Frank Humber
8. Paul McCloy
9. Colin Abbott
10. Michael Ryder