Jack Nowell will be watching Englands Six Nations finale in Italy at home wearing a surgical boot.
Nowell underwent surgery to fix toe ligaments on Friday morning. A player regularly in for body repairs, Nowell falls without complaint into a familiar routine. He is already looking beyond confinement, plotting a route through rehab to the frontline next year where he hopes to unload his unique brand of energised rugby in the services of Exeter, England, and, skeleton permitting, the Lions.
Its not all bad. Nowell is caressed by the restorative glow of a historic seven days in which he became a European Cup and Premiership double winner for the first time with the Chiefs. Besides, this lad needs little encouragement to smile.
Visitors to his Instagram page and to his YouTube output will recognise the happy disposition, not to mention the wacky hair and exuberant body art. Underpinning this layer of deep content is an essential otherness shaped by a Cornish identity that he believes gives him his drive.
I am from a hard working family, he tells i. My old man is a fisherman. I was the first male Nowell not to carry on in the fishing business that they have built up over many years. Obviously my old man was a bit gutted about that. I spent a lot of time as a kid down on the boats most mornings loading fish on to lorries. I used to wake up at four, five in the morning and go down with dad. I have spent a lot of time painting and doing odd jobs on the boat to earn the odd 20 quid here and there. Never been on a full trip. They are away seven eight days. My old man reckons Im not hard enough for that.
Nowell took to rugby at infant school, and plays with the urgency of one running at speed from the fishermans life. He found expression among a group of fellow travellers, some of whom made the journey with him all the way to the professional game.
We are a lot of misfits down here but we gel together. I was lucky enough to come through with a group of boys, six or seven of us. I have known Luke Cowan-Dickie since I was five years old. Henry Slade, Dave Ewers, Sam Hill (now with Sale), boys like that, played with them since I was 16, 17. That makes a massive difference.
Nowell crossed the border into Devon to sign for the Chiefs at 17, co-inciding with the clubs promotion to the top tier of the English game.
It was a huge moment for Nowell and ultimately a wrench to make a home more than a hundred miles from all he had known in the Cornish fishing village of Newlyn.
I grew up playing for my local team, he says. If Id stayed there I wouldnt be playing for England. Unfortunately I had to go over the border. My dad was pretty gutted because my two little girls were born in Devon. He asked me to come home but it didnt work out. Sorry dad.
Nowells rise with Exeter, the consequent recognition by England and the Lions has seen his profile rocket sufficiently to threaten the status of Ross Poldark as the nations most celebrated Cornishman.
To be perfectly honest I have not seen Poldark. Good looking lad is he? Well, I say, he takes off his shirt a lot and always gets the girl. Ill take that, he said. The Nowell torso is every bit the reference point that Aiden Turners became in his portrayal of the fictional entrepreneur, if a little more inked. Tattoos are central part of the mariners tradition. Ive grown up around them. Id hear weird stories from my dad, my uncles, cousins, all of them in fishing. My dad would get off the boat in Penzance, get a taxi to Plymouth, get a tattoo and then come home again. Some of them are pretty shocking. Some dont remember getting half of them.
If nothing else rehab is a boon for Nowells tattooist. Ive become a good friend with him over time. I always get them when Im injured. It takes my mind off it. I recently got my daughters names on my hands. I want to get my back done, come up with a few new designs, something to do with my life, the journey Ive gone through recently, something to do with the Chiefs, England, the Lions. A likeness of Eddie Jones, perhaps? Only if he promises to pick me every game hes in charge.
As well as body art Nowell surprises with a devotion to Lego. He says it helps keep him sane in the testosterone village of pro rugby.
I do love Lego, he says. I did a motorbike this summer, I have a Land Rover Defender and I have the whole Simpsons set to do. I have always loved it and never quite given it up. You can lose yourself for ours making stuff. Everyone has their own thing. I played with Italian international Michele Campagnaro a few years ago and he used to love collecting leaves. He would put them in a book, write down where he found them, things like that. Thats not uncommon. It was just his release.
Naturally, having lost two years of his career to injury, Nowell is miffed to be missing out with England in Italy and in the Autumn Nations Cup.
Unfortunately it is just the way I play the game, he says. If I changed maybe I would not have achieved what I have, wouldnt have played for England, won Premiership titles for the club or played for the Lions. Im already looking past it and thinking about different ways to rehab to be fit for the Six Nations [in 2021].
Nowells attitude, his willingness to sacrifice all for those around him, explains his value not only to Rob Baxter at Exeter but to England where Jones is so keen to have him around he has considered his inclusion as a flanker. It will be a comfort for both to know that when Nowell does return it will be at full bore.
For me its all about winning and giving my absolute all for the team, Nowell adds. You dont think about your body, about getting hurt, about what the media says, or other people. As long as I can go into the changing room afterwards or sit on the bus and look at my team-mates knowing I have given my best that is the most pleasing thing for me. When you have that everything else takes care of itself.
To learn more about how elite athletes train watch Jacks video at Red Bull Pro Hub
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