Though the two sports are very different, there are many similarities between rugby and American football – enough that make playing rugby a viable path to the NFL. Both involve a fair amount of physical contact. Both involve players attempting to move a ball downfield by exerting their will. Rugby scrums often resemble the NFL‘s trenches, where offensive and defensive lineman fight to move the line of scrimmage in their direction.
Currently, an English rugby star named Christian Wade is attempting to make it in the NFL. Who is he, and what other rugby stars have attempted the jump to the NFL in the past?
Christian Wade’s attempt to join the NFL
In April 2019, Wade signed with the Buffalo Bills as part of the NFL’s “International Player Pathway” program. This program allows outstanding international athletes to compete for spots on NFL practice squads. According to NFL International:
“Instituted in 2017, the program aims to provide elite international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster…Athletes from Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom will again be represented, including two professional Rugby players, Valentine Holmes and Christian Wade, who are attempting to cross over to the NFL.”
Wade is a longshot to make the Bills roster but has made a compelling case so far for keeping him on the team.
Christian Wade’s incredible touchdown run
In a recent preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, Wade got an opportunity to make an impact in a very big way. He scored a 65-yard touchdown for the Bills on his very first carry.
Following the game, Wade commented on the scoring scamper:
“I knew where I was going even before the ball came because they overloaded one side,” said Wade.
“Then as soon as I got the ball I was off to the races. I was looking up at the screen to see if any of the linebackers or anyone was coming up behind me.”
Bills quarterback Josh Allen also commented on the touchdown, congratulating Wade and saying that watching the touchdown was “one of the coolest experiences of my football career.” Wade received the game ball.
Wade would also have a 48-yard carry in his next game. Coach Sean McDermott called the Bills sideline a “tidal wave” reacting to Wade’s run, as the players were so happy for Wade.
Other rugby stars trying to make it in the NFL
Wade isn’t the only rugby player who’s given the NFL a go. Below are five others who attempted to make the leap to the NFL from rugby as well – some successful, others not so much:
- Valentine Holmes, Wade’s fellow International Pathway participant from Australia. Holmes is currently trying to make the roster of the New York Jets.
- Jarryd Hayne, another Australian who was a running back in San Francisco 49ers camp during the 2015 preseason.
- Seahawks punter Michael Dickson, an Australian rugby player who debuted with Seattle in 2018.
- Eagles punter Cameron Johnston, an Australian rugby player who also debuted in 2018 with Philadelphia.
- Jets punter Lachlan Edwards, a Victorian Football League Australian rugby player who signed with New York in 2016
Right now there are multiple former rugby-playing punters in the NFL. But Wade is trying to make it as a running back which is much more uncommon.
While he has a tough climb ahead of him, it’s clear that he has the Bills players and coaching staff rooting for him. If he can continue to make electrifying plays, he’s got a good shot at making the Bills practice squad with an outside shot at making the team. He also may be able to catch on somewhere else if it doesn’t work out in Buffalo.