My Fitness

Rugby Skills Translate on the Football Field

September 12, 2019

With football season upon us, thousands of players across the country are chasing their dreams of becoming the next professional football superstar.

Over the last decade, a number of rugby players have had that same dream and attempted to make a transition. While the crossover from one sport to another is extremely difficult, skills learned in rugby benefit those players trying to make a switch. 

Former rugby stars make their mark in football

Several elite-level rugby players have established successful NFL careers. Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship standout Nate Ebner, and Paul Lasike, a former BYU rugby standout have gone on to have success in professional football.

Even foreign-born rugby players have made the jump to American football.

Recently, professional rugby players Jarryd Hayne and Jordan Mailata have come from Australia with the hopes of making it big. This year, former England Rugby star Christian Wade gave up an opportunity to play in the 2019 Rugby World Cup for a shot in professional football. The speedy wing, known for his finishing ability, naturally scored a 65-yard touchdown on his first ever carry of the pigskin.

With many teams adopting rugby-style tackling techniques, and players needing to be more versatile to make rosters, rugby could seep further into the game.

Rugby breeds versatility and teamwork

If rugby does become a catalyst for a career in football, it will be because of the dynamic nature of the game. The ability to play both sides of the ball and develop spatial awareness is critical to becoming a versatile football player.

“Rugby is three or four American sports rolled into one,” said USA Rugby Hall of Famer and former college football player Dan Lyle. “Putting people through gaps and playing team defense is very much soccer and basketball and the physical part of the game really aligns with traditional football. Every football player should play rugby in the offseason to become a better athlete and every football coach should learn rugby style tackling techniques.”

Rugby style tackling is being adopted throughout the course of professional football. Widely considered safer, rugby style tackling is being used to prevent injuries and avoid missed tackles.

“Proper tackling technique or the rugby tackle of step, shoulder, wrap is something that rugby is bringing to football.  Both sports are spending a lot of time in the contact area and rugby is definitely having an impact on it.”

In addition to the physical skills that translate on the field, the physically demanding nature of the game lends to building strong team players. The game’s inherent values of sacrifice and community naturally foster a strong sense of teamwork among successful rugby players.

“There are a lot intangibles in rugby that lead people to be team guys. Rugby is a true team game and I have found that lessons learned on the pitch lead to good character individuals,” Lyle added.

Because of the wide variety of skill sets learned in the game and the ethos of the sport, rugby players are seeing an easier transition to professional football. While it doesn’t guarantee success the sport, a rugby background does give players an opportunity to find success.

“I had a couple of tryouts with the Redskins and didn’t make it and turned my attention to rugby. I had another opportunity two years later after being seen by the Vikings and I had the best workout I ever had because of skills I learned in rugby,” Lyle concluded.

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