Can Rugby Players Play American Football?

Last Updated on October 28, 2023 by Alex PT

Yes, rugby players can play American football. There are many similarities between the two sports, such as the need for size, strength, speed, and agility. However, there are also some key differences, such as the use of protective gear in American football and the different rules regarding tackling and passing the ball.

The table below includes the players who switched between rugby and the NFL, and the challenges of switching.

Players Who Switched Between The Two Sports 

Players Who Switched Between The Two SportsChallenges Of Switching Between The Two Sports
Gavin Hastings Languages and terms
Richard TarditsPhysical Adjustment
Nate EbnerThe CBA limitations 
Hayden SmithThe CBA culture

1. Gavin Hastings 

It might be hard to believe, but Gavin Hastings, who is a legend of the Irish Lions, Scotland, and British, enjoyed a successful season with the Scottish Claymores, an NFL Europe team. He excels as a placekicker for the team and played for a whole 1996-97 season. His one year experience in the NFL saw him managed 24 out of 27 conversions, which is considered an outstanding decent record. Gavin was released after the Scottish Claymores won the World Bowl of 1996-97 season. 

Many people were troubled by how he was able to fare well in different sports. It should be noted that Gavin, who was a rugby player, played in the UK when it had not turned into a professional sports yet. It is now clear why he grabbed the opportunity to play a professional football in the NFL. 

2. Richard Tardits 

Richard was born in France and he was a former American footballer. He won a cap after represented the United States of America at the 1999 World Cup and he played rugby for Biarritz Olympique. Richard was at his peak in the NFL when he played for the Phoenix Cardinals and the New England Patriots. As a specialist in the University of Georgia, he held the record for most sacks in a career, he was then nicknamed the Le Sack. At the peak of his career, he sponsored a semi-pro American football team when he still had enough money back in Biarritz, his hometown. Unlike the next legend on our list, Tardits never won the Super Bowl. 

3. Nate Ebner

The most famous name on our list will certainly go to Nate Ebner and his name is something that you would probably hear or see on the TV in the coming weeks. Based on the fact that was predicted by most bookmakers, Ebner’s team, the New England Patriots, are in the Super Bowl. Patriots winning the Super Bowl ring has odds of only 5/1 way back in September. This will hopefully be Ebner’s third Super Bowl ring. 

The distinction of the only active player to play in the Olympics also goes to Ebner – when he played at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil for the USA in rugby sevens. The United States of America eventually finished in the ninth position even if he had played well scoring two tries. Abner has made a great transition between rugby and American football. And his transition has shown the world the type of athleticism that is required to cope with the demands of the two types of sports. 

4. Hayden Smith 

Hayden Smith took a punt in the NFL in 2012 after booking his name on the books at Saracens. He was eventually signed to the New York Jets practice squad after training with numerous teams. In 2013, Smith was released but he had made the active roster that year and played competitively. Smith only received a pass in an NFL game during his time in the United States. That might look inadequately small but it’s actually pretty impressive when you consider many players who tried to switch but we’re not able to make it past the practice squad. 

Smith gave switching his best shot even if it was not quite the success story we all had hoped for. After getting back to England, he was re-signed to the Saracens again. Interestingly, in 2015, he helped Saracens to beat Exeter Chiefs and then go on to win the Anglo-Welsh Cup Final. Smith also won caps in the Pacific National Cup which held up in 2104, where he represented the US national rugby team. The National League One now owns the masterclass player who now played for Esher RFC. 

Can Rugby Players Hack It In American Football? Or Vice Versa?

There have been notable players who made the move from rugby league to American football and even from American football to rugby league. But almost all of their attempts were futile and they could not even proceed past the practice teams. But Nate and Gavin were outstanding and gave us all food for thought. 

With all the eyes on the news that the popular Jarryd Hayne had decided to pursue a career in American football and leave the National Rugby League, we thought it’d be great to unveil his chance of making it and all the challenges that he probably faced. 

If we have to look it from the angle of the American football fans, it would be more similar to the Marshawn Lynch leaving his NFL team (the Seahawks) at the age of 26 to join the rugby league located in Australia. Or perhaps the one who left MLB only to pursue a cricket career in India (Derek Jeter). There’s a lot of news about it underneath. 

Since his early youth days, Hayne has been trained to play naturally in the rugby league As a rookie, Hayne in his first year as a pro made a huge splash, also similar to what Russell Wilson did as a first-year starter. Within his first seven years in the NRL, Hayne went on to just about all the awards available, from rookie of the Year to player of the Year award, he was a young beast growing up. “The fastest man in Rugby” is what he was named back then. In the history of the NRL, Jarryd Hayne is one of the most ornate and successful rugby league players. We don’t think there are any achievements and awards left for him to attain that he has not already attained. But does being the very best in the rugby league make him suitable and ready for another league entirely? Let’s break it down! 

The challenges that Hayne’s and/or any other players who tried to switch between Rugby League and the NFL; 

The Physical Adjustment

Many rugby league fanatics think that putting on pads and helmets makes the NFL easier for the players than the Rugby league, please do not join people with such a silly notion. It is for a reason that they wear pads and helmets. Since the hits in the NFL is extremely massive and aplenty, the helmets and pads make these NFL players hit as hard as they can, sometimes even using a weapon against the opponents. The average starting NFL linebacker weighs 270 pounds, is about 6’ 4 1/2”, and runs a 42-yard in only 4.65 seconds. 

Linebackers are tough, robust, agile, fierce, and fast. The defensive linemen in the NFL are even more frightening. Most of them weigh as high as 300 and 350 pounds and can run faster than most of the rugby players weighing below 80 pounds. If you are not confused, our point is that you might not be the fastest guy on an NFL field even if you’re the best runner on the rugby field, meaning that your high speed in rugby might marginalized to average on an NFL field. So that means that if you’re willing to switch from a rugby league to the NFL, you will need to adjust to the new talent level around you even if you’re used to dominating your fellow rugby players with your physical skills. 

The added advantage from durability, mental standpoint, training, and stamina will be the edge a rugby player would have, which will put him in better shape than most NFL players. If you’re talking about the best-conditioned athletes on the planet, then you cannot go without mentioning rugby players. They have an added advantage that helps them to step into an NFL game, camp, or even try out. 

The CBA Limitations And Culture

There are very limited reps available for the projected starters with only four preseason games before the cut-down to the final 53 roster and some other players seeking a job at a given position. The amount of pep talk a player has with his coach on the field is severely limited by the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement. Hayden’s lack of on-field time with his coach was his biggest frustration in the learning process. Smith was limited to learning physical skills on the field with his coaches even though he had to spend nothing less than 14 hours a day for up to three months at the Jets facility. Furthermore, his coaches were as frustrated as he was because they were not able to spend the right amount of time training their players properly. 

The Terms/Language /Slang

Learning the language and terms of the game had been one of the biggest challenges for many players. Many NFL players know the basics and languages of the game since many of them have been playing the game since age seven. Having said that, some rookies find it difficult to understand the audibles, the plays, and the calls. The biggest challenge for offensive players in the check-downs or simply “audibles” which are also known as “calls”, which are located at the scrimmage. A player might run the wrong route, get his QB killed, or cause a fumble by hitting the wrong hole if he mistakenly missed a call in a blocking assignment. 

For instance, the Stanford and Iowa rookies performed excellently in the NFL because they gained experience from pro-style terms, language, and systems. Honestly, they speak the terms well!! On the other hand, new rugby players will have to learn the terminologies and languages from scratch. The speed at which a player will catch on depends on the player’s ability to learn fast. But some NFL languages are very difficult to master like the Patriot’s digit system. 

Final Words

Switching from one sport to another is nothing close to easy. As we’ve seen or heard of players who wanted to switch but couldn’t make it past the practice teams. We hope this article was resourceful in your quest to know if rugby players can play American football.


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