Luke Cowan-Dickie reveals extent of his injury hell and determination to get his England shirt back: ‘I couldn’t move my arm when I woke up from the op. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t do anything!’

Luke Cowan-Dickie picks up a set of darts in the Sale Sharks team room and stands directly opposite the board. It’s an unorthodox stance, with both feet pointing forward, almost as if he’s throwing a lineout. He hits the target straight. One shot, one kill.

“It’s easier to pick a target point in darts because it’s stationary,” he explains, shaking the pain from his right arm.

‘However, the release point is similar. When you throw form, you release early. If you throw flatter, you’ll let go later.’

Early last year, Cowan-Dickie barely had the strength to lift an arrow, let alone throw one. The pain around his arm is the result of a career-threatening injury, which required surgery on his C5 vertebra to alleviate the nerve damage.

‘My shoulder burns when I play too many darts; I feel it in my deltoid muscle. I had decompression surgery on my vertebra.

Luke Cowan-Dickie is targeting the play-offs with Sale and a recall to the England squad

The hooker is not content with ending his career in England as a darting, traveling reserve

The hooker is not content with ending his career in England as a darting, traveling reserve

‘If you continue to get compressions from all the big shocks, the hole in the bone through which the nerve passes becomes narrower and narrower. They had to shave it so that the nerves could get through again, by opening it up with a small drill. The nerve that supplied my shoulder muscles and my biceps effectively died.

‘When I first woke up from the operation, I was quite high from the anaesthetic. The surgeon asked me to move my arm and I couldn’t… I think he thought I was taking the mick. There was a two percent chance that I would wake up with a lack of exercise and I was in that unlucky percentage.

‘None of my muscles worked for at least two months. I couldn’t move my arm from my side, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything.

“Looking back, it was quite mental. The rule of thumb is that you will regain 70 percent of your strength within nine months. It took a little longer for me. It takes up to two years to get 100 percent back.

‘Things are going much better now. In terms of strength, things are improving and my arm is getting a bit more volume.

‘If I say that playing darts has helped me get fit, I might get an invitation to play in a competition!’

Cowan-Dickie walks to a table in the corner of the room and reflects on the Six Nations campaign he missed partly due to an irregular heartbeat.

When he returned to play the role of traveling reserve, filling in for Jamie George and Theo Dann, he found plenty of time to play darts.

When he returned to play the role of traveling reserve, filling in for Jamie George and Theo Dann, he found plenty of time to play darts.

The 30-year-old is not content with ending his career in England as a darts, traveling reserve

The 30-year-old is not content with ending his career in England as a darts, traveling reserve

He was placed on a monitor for five days before being cleared. When he returned to play the role of traveling reserve, as understudy to Jamie George and Theo Dann, he found plenty of time to play darts.

‘Freddie Steward loves his darts and the last few matches we have been traveling together with the reserves. It’s a bit more relaxed if you’re not in 23. I’m used to the traveling role, but Fred hadn’t really done it before. As Fred played well against Wales and was traveling the following week, I wanted to help take his mind off things. We only had one board and it was always free after everyone went to bed, so we had a few competitions.”

Now 30, Cowan-Dickie is not content to end his England career as a darting, traveling reserve. He has signed a contract extension with Sale, keeping his English ambitions alive until 2025.

A move to France last summer was canceled due to injuries, but he has since reconnected with the hunger to return to the forefront of Steve Borthwick’s plans.

‘I have signed for another year. I’ve been a pretty average performer for the sale since I arrived in the summer and they took care of me when I was in the right place. My arm is getting better and hopefully I can perform better now to thank you.

‘I wouldn’t say I have changed my goals, but if I stay here the door to England is open. Going back to the Six Nations format has taught me that everything happens for a reason. From here we only go up; the way it turned out is perfect.

Cowan-Dickie, 30, is determined to return to Steve Borthwick's England squad

Cowan-Dickie, 30, is determined to return to Steve Borthwick’s England squad

Cowan-Dickie has settled in the North West, a six-hour drive from Penzance, where his grandmother, Ruby, used to take him to play darts

Cowan-Dickie has settled in the North West, a six-hour drive from Penzance, where his grandmother, Ruby, used to take him to play darts

‘Before everything was a bit mumbo jumbo and England wasn’t really at the forefront of my mind because of all the injuries. I hadn’t played for the better part of a year. Playing for the Lions in 2021 was probably the best year of my career. It has lit a fire to know that I can get back to that level.

‘As happy as I am when I see the boys winning, I can’t sit here and lie to you and say I don’t want to go back in the 23. Of course I want to go back to England, but until I start performing for Sale. I don’t think I justify it. Hopefully I get some playing time and perform better in the build-up.’

Cowan-Dickie has settled in the North West, a six-hour drive from Penzance, where his grandmother, Ruby, took him to play darts at the Astro Park. “She also threw quite head-on… very strange.”

His father, Adam, a trawlman, occasionally delivers a few kilos of hake and today the family will set their eyes on the AJ Bell Stadium, where the gritty hooker will face his boyhood club Exeter.

“Playing against the guys I played with for so long will be a bit strange, but it will probably give some motivation. Jack Yeandle lived next door to me, so I’ll definitely get in his ear a bit. Maybe I’ll hold him in a backpack and give him a few punches in the ribs!’

However, there is little room for sentiment. Sale have suffered four Premier League defeats, so a winning run is essential for a late charge into the play-offs. Their England stars are back in the picture and Cowan-Dickie hopes their experience will get the team back on track.

He signed a new one-year contract with Sale Sharks after turning his back on the move to France

He signed a new one-year contract with Sale Sharks after turning his back on the move to France

“We have to treat every game like a play-off because we need wins to get into the top four. I’ve been in situations like this before and you just have to get through it. Losing never makes anyone happy, but we still have good energy and we train well. When the mood is c**p, things get out of hand, but we don’t worry too much. If we get that one gig, it will continue.

“You may not have seen it when we lost to Bath last week, but I feel like the break has been good for us. Some guys are back from injury; we have George Ford and Manu Tuilagi back from England. If we have some time in the saddle together, we will definitely improve.

“With someone like Fordy, he’s very good at telling you what he wants. He doesn’t play darts though, I don’t think he could cope with losing to a Cornishman.’