Teddy Leatherbarrow: Scarlets flanker graduates from university to tackling world's best

Teddy Leatherbarrow played for Sale before going to Loughborough University
Teddy Leatherbarrow was born in Macclesfield and previously played for Sale

URC: Leinster v Scarlets

Venue: RDS Arena, Dublin Date: Saturday, 18 November Kick off: 19:35 GMT

Coverage: Live on S4C and via iPlayer, the BBC Sport website and app. Match report and highlights on the BBC Sport website and app. Highlights on Scrum V, Sunday, BBC Two Wales and online, Sunday, 19 November from 18:00 GMT and later on demand.

Just a few months ago, new Scarlets flanker Teddy Leatherbarrow was sitting in lectures at Loughborough University.

This weekend the economics graduate finds himself facing 2022 world player of the year and Ireland flanker Josh van der Flier in the United Rugby Championship (URC) game against Leinster in Dublin.

"It's strange to think I was probably watching Josh van der Flier last year and thinking 'wow what a player'," said Leatherbarrow.

"To have the chance to come up against him this weekend is something I'll try to take with two hands and relish the opportunity.

"It doesn't come around every week and a lot of the boys are in a similar position. We want to go and test ourselves against some of the best players in the world."

The contest for some will represent a snapshot of the growing chasm between Irish and Welsh professional sides.

If you wonder where the four Welsh teams might be looking at recruitment in these times of rugby financial austerity, Leatherbarrow provides one answer, as every resource needs to be explored.

The 23-year-old was spotted in the British Universities and Colleges (BUCS) league playing for Loughborough by Scott Sneddon, who is now the Scarlets academy manager. Scarlets have also signed England Students fly-half Charlie Titcombe who also featured for Loughborough.

Another crack at professional rugby

"I can't speak highly enough of the BUCS Super Rugby programme," said Leatherbarrow.

"I've played a lot of adult leagues since I've left school in National One and National Two in England, the Welsh Premiership, and BUCS.

"It's completely different. I would say BUCS is more comparable with the URC in terms of the ball is moving a lot.

"There's a lot of good young players in there with lads who are playing in Welsh academies like here at the Scarlets, boys in English academies who go to university and combine that education with rugby.

"The standard is high and there's lots of funding in the universities which means you get a great level of coaching. I can only speak for Loughborough, but there's depth there.

"We used to have support in psychology, nutritionists, and strength and conditioning. It was almost like being in a professional environment but you get your education at the same time."

The pathway has been a success for England internationals like Freddie Steward, Dan Kelly, Alex Dombrandt and Tom Pearson, while Christ Tshiunza and Dafydd Jenkins have appeared for Exeter.

"There's boys everywhere from the BUCS league," said Leatherbarrow.

"It is a stepping stone and a trampoline on to bigger and better things."

For Leatherbarrow, who has had a stint with Sale, a move to Wales means another chance at professional rugby.

"It is a second chance at professional rugby - I was at Sale since I was 14," he said

"I did two years at the senior academy there and left for Loughborough University. I know myself personally at 18 I wasn't ready as a forward to be playing men's rugby. I wasn't in the right physical condition.

"Looking at when I was 18 to now I've put on nearly 15kg. I feel like I'm able to make more of an impact when it comes to that top level of men's rugby.

"I wasn't sure whether I wanted to do professional rugby again but this opportunity arose and it was one I couldn't turn down."

Eligible for three countries - including Wales

Leatherbarrow is Welsh-qualified through his mother's side of the family, but is also eligible for England through birth and Scotland, for whom he has played at under-20 level.

His Scottish links are through his father.

Back-row injuries combined with Leatherbarrow's impressive performances in training have handed him his opportunity in Llanelli.

He featured in the pre-season friendly against Barbarians and started the last two home matches, against Cardiff and Lions.

Leatherbarrow was especially prominent against Cardiff, although a late off-the-ball challenge resulted in a yellow card, reducing Scarlets to 14 men before they hung on for victory.

Teddy Leatherbarrow in action against Lions last weekend
Teddy Leatherbarrow captained Loughborough University to the BUCS Super Rugby title last season

"I think I was knackered and I forgot there was a television match official (TMO)," said Leatherbarrow.

"You get away with those things in BUCS rugby and the Welsh Premiership. I was absolutely blowing out of my hoot and chasing and I just stepped in front of him.

"It was then a bit of squeaky-bum time but it was a case of head in hands and praying. It all went well in the end."

The incident offered an example of the type of lesson Leatherbarrow is having to learn as he attempts to make his mark at Scarlets.

"The step up in detail has probably been the hardest challenge," he said.

"You've got probably 10-15 different plays each week and on top of that you've got five lineout calls you have to remember when you are tired and fatigued.

"Knowing that detail, it's almost like being at university again, but you are revising for games rather than exams."