FUKUOKA, 24 Sep - Canada's Eric Howard has no fear of walking out on the pitch against the world's toughest rugby players at his first World Cup. He is ready for any challenges after working around racehorses for a living.
"Racehorses freak me out," said Howard, who worked as a stables cleaner until he could afford to put his full focus on rugby. "They're massive and once they start going and you're in their way, you're done.
"I'm pretty confident I can tackle a human, but a horse? Not a chance."
The 26-year-old hooker worked on a horse farm for three years, cleaning paddocks, cutting trees and doing any task needed, while training to become a world-class rugby player.
Epic congratulations to Eric Howard as he heads to Japan to play for Canada in the Rugby World Cup! https://t.co/gW4GvDh6Qf— BeaversBansheesRugby (@OBBRFC) September 6, 2019
Although the job was not glamorous, it was a good option since the boss of the stables also came from a rugby background and was supportive of Howard's training schedule.
Cleaning stables is just one of the jobs that Howard - he is captain of the Major League Rugby team New Orleans Gold - held before he was able to make rugby his full-time occupation. And he claims it was not even his worst.
"My first summer at university I worked a data-entry job, putting professors' resumes into a database, which was probably the worst job in the world," he said. "I was inside all day."
It was a long journey from his student days to being selected for Canada's squad for the Rugby World Cup, and the transformation still takes Howard by surprise. He played soccer, ice hockey and American football growing up and came into rugby by accident.
"I used to play (American) football but then I moved to Ottawa and my high school didn't have a football team so I transitioned to rugby. Then I had some amazing teachers and coaches that showed me how fun rugby was, and the social aspect of rugby really pulled me in."
It was not until his first year of university that Howard began to get serious about rugby. Eight years later, he is in the 31-man squad in Japan as Canada prepare to face Italy in their first Pool B match at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium on Thursday (26 September).
"When I first started playing rugby, I never thought I'd ever have this opportunity. I remember watching Canada play New Zealand years ago in the 2011 World Cup when I was young and barely playing rugby.
"I thought, if I ever got that opportunity, it would mean the world to me. If I was picked for Canada, then that dream would really start to come true if I worked hard enough. If I could accomplish that, then I could say my rugby career was a success."