Tuesday, 18 December 2012

American Footballers as Rugby Union players

While carrying out my usual early morning Facebook perusal I came across an interesting angle on an old argument.

Who would you take from the NFL to make up a Rugby Union starting 15?

Often the Rugby vs American football debate focuses on the fact that American Footballers wear pads and rugby players don’t, but I thought it was interesting to compare the athletic ability of NFL players with players in comparable positions in a Rugby Union team.

Now obviously this debate needs some caveats attached. We presume that the Americans will be able to practice tackling with their head the other side of the ball so they don’t die and get an opportunity to work on their anaerobic energy systems so they aren't puffed out by the 15 minute mark.

Also someone is going to have to learn to kick a little (I could just play Ben Graham, the Lions punter, at Fly half. He played Aussie rules football originally), either that or we’ll take a scrum for penalties and enjoy the sight of a 350lb Nose Tackle try and kick a conversion.


With this team I chose to go for all out defensive players. In rugby everyone has to be able to tackle every now and then and I wanted my team to physically dominate the opposition with size and speed combinations. I wanted sideline to sideline ability from the pack and basically some big hitters everywhere.

Front Row
J.J Watt, Vince Wilfork and Justin Smith

An absolutely MASSIVE Front Row in Union terms, I always knew the front row were going to be 3-4 defensive linemen. I could have just gone for 3 nose tackles, but figured they would need to run further than five yards at a time. Wilfork is by far the stand out guy considering his size/weight combination and his unquestionable sideline to sideline ability. J.J Watt provides some more athleticism and speed and would be an absolute animal in the breakdown. Justin Smith is often an unheralded part of a formidable 49ers defence, but he is a cornerstone of my pack and provides ridiculous athleticism (4.69 forty at the combine!) with the mandatory size.

Second Row
Jason Pierre Paul and Julius Peppers

The freak show begins! Jason Pierre Paul and Julius Peppers are genetic aberrations running sub 4.7 forties and outweighing most (if not all) International Rugby Union props. To be honest there are plenty of 4-3 ends and tackles that could fit into this particular position (a certain Mr Suh would certainly be disappointed) and I could have taken Wilfork and the Giants front 4, but that would have been cheating.

Back Row
Bruce Irvine, Jerod Mayo and Luke Kuechly

With all the beef up front I thought I would try and bring in some sure tacklers and one more athletic freak to round out my pack as one of the heaviest in the world (coming in at an almighty 138 stone). Irvine was a player I just had to include in my team. Anyone his size that runs a 4.5 forty yard dash has to feature. Jerod Mayo also has bags of athletic ability as well as the size of a 3-4 middle linebacker. He deals with NFL guards on a regular basis, so dealing with comparatively light props and tight heads shouldn’t be an issue. The rookie Keuchly could be a controversial pick, but I love his athleticism as well as a nose of the ball.

Half Backs
Ed Reed and Ray Lewis

A Scrum half has to have an eye for an opportunity and a nose for the gap, what better player to play here than the playmaker himself. Reed also isn’t against pitching the ball to a team mate either, so probably has the most experience of any defender of playing something resembling Rugby. Uncle Ray brings yet more leadership to the team. He won’t be kicking often…

Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis

The beasts from the bay rock up in my midfield to basically physically dominate any situation. They have size, athletic ability, aggressiveness and tackling ability  by the bucket load. Not much in the way of ball handling ability and neither are exactly exciting play makers, but they would grind down any opposition with their physicality.

Back 3
Mark Barron, Polamalu, Patrick Peterson

It’s pretty tough picking a back 3 from defensive players. I’ve already got the stand out play maker at the position in the NFL playing at Scrum half after all. As a rookie Barron has already developed a reputation as a big hitter and showed at Alabama that he more than has the ability to take down a ball carrier.

Troy Polamalu gets in by default because apparently every Rugby team has to have at least one pacific islander in their team... It also helps that he has long been the best in this position for his entire career (it was either him or Adrian Wilson).

Finally the obvious choice at Full Back was Patrick Peterson. Play making ability tby the boat load, he’ll be a beast returning the inevitable kicks and also has the ability to make a tackle in space.


Now I am nothing more than an armchair fan of Rugby. I understand the basics but do not for have an in depth knowledge of the subtleties (if that is the right word) of the breakdown or the complexities of the line out. With this in mind I asked a friend of mine with considerably more knowledge of Rugby to put together his own team.

John Clark represented Yorkshire as a youth and played BUSA/BUCS Premier A and B Rugby for Worcester at University level. He currently plays for the National 3 team.


Front Row
Julius Peppers,  Ben Roethlisberger and Ndamukong Suh

Peppers – at 6’ 7’’, 287 pounds, is an ox of a man and built in the same frame as Andrew Sheridan! With a not too shoddy 4.68 you can imagine him dominating opposition props and still having the motor to get round the field and make a nuisance in the tackle areas.

The best hookers are tough, abrasive and able to wind people up. More importantly they have to be able to throw in the lineout when tired and with distractions around them. Also – remember Big Ben’s “tackle” on Nick Harper in Superbowl XL… doesn’t mind putting it about a bit!

Suh would be dominant in the scrum, easily lift in the lineout and can tackle the heavy traffic around the fringes. Would also put money on him scragging a back running down his channel – perfect fit for tight head

Second Row
Jason Pierre Paul and Calvin Johnson

Jason Pierre Paul is 6’ 5’’, 278, abrasive, focussed and relentless. Could do all of the graft round the field, hitting rucks, tackling runners and let his more mobile, free running second row do the ball carrying.
Megatron has unbelievable hands, jumping ability and size that would make him a good fit but will possibly is a contentious choice! Tough and abrasive, 6’ 5’’ and a fan of the gym…. Ideal

Back Row
Clay Mathews, J.J Watt and Adrian Peterson

Clay Mathews is explosive, dynamic and loves to tackle. Relentless in the pursuit of the ball carrier and enjoys winding up the opposition. The classic 6, would work himself into the ground, hit anything that moves and tell the opposition he’s doing it.

Unstoppable, untouchable and a different class are all words that have described J.J Watt this season. Close to the NFL sack record means this guy can tackle and his ability to move in traffic makes me think he’d be perfect to make a tackle and then get over the ball to try and secure that turnover. With him and Matthews prowling round the field not many of the opposition would want to come on to the ball at pace!

Adrian Peterson is explosive, fast and can find a hole in a defence as shown with 1,812 yards already this season. Would generate a huge amount of go forward ball from set piece and in open play and although wouldn’t offer a huge amount in the defensive department, but with Matthews and Watt there… do you need him to!?

Half Backs
Drew Brees and Robert Griffin III

The little general. Scrum halves control the game, direct their forwards and give the ball to their backs. Most are small in stature but have a pass like a cannon… Drew Brees fits this mould perfectly. An on field coach, leader and wouldn’t except anything but the best from his players.

Fly half is the play caller that has the responsibility of deciding whether to pass the ball, hold on to it and run or just get rid of it downfield. RG3 has the physical and mental tools to hold this position down. He’s the architect of set piece moves that confuse the defence, open gaps and allows for big downfield plays. You wouldn’t want him making tackles in the NFL, but this is Rugby and every player has to tackle, but some have played international rugby with a reputation of not being able to do it well (Quade Cooper, Ronan O’Gara, Charlie Hodgson), you can change defensive schemes to cover him but with a Brees/RG3 combination – imagine the offensive possibilities!

Marshawn Lynch and Ray Lewis

Beast mode is the NFL’s version of Manu Tuilagi. No one wants him running at you one on one and with some coaching you could even teach him to pass the ball to his teammates. Although not renowned for his tackling with his competitive nature you could teach him and I can imagine him writing off anyone running at him!

The Outside centre is often considered to be the defensive lynchpin. He needs to read a defence, marshal his troops and stop strike runners. Although he has lost some speed Ray Lewis’ ability to read an offense and control his D would be spectacular. Brian Urlacher also considered but both are veterans and lack some speed - I'd pick Lewis - passion, heart, intensity and leadership. A natural leader of the D.

Back 3
Victor Cruz, LeSean McCoy and Devin Hester

Cruz has safe hands, is quick and one hell of a try scoring celebration to rival the renowned “ash splash”. Took Eli back to the Promised Land with his dazzling runs and 1,536 yards. A natural born finisher with speed to spare!

Excellent with ball in hand but also used as a threat in the passing game, Shady would be a great winger. When he has the ball in his hands Shady can do things many others can’t as demonstrated (when healthy) this year behind a porous line. Fast, elusive and exploits gaps in defences

Imagine this man coming into the line at speed and exploiting a gap. Unstoppable. DeSean Jackson was also considered, but I imagine Hester would be more durable as Jackson, minus the pads and helmet probably wouldn't be interested in tackling! With a back 3 of Cruz, McCoy and Hester no defence would show them their outside shoulder for fear of embarrassment and with Lewis leading their defensive charge; all 3 would put their bodies on the line to stop an opposition player.

So there you have it, a couple of teams with different make ups. How would you set up your 15? Would you go for super beef and have mostly O linemen, D linemen and tight ends making up the forwards? Do you like mroe speed from your backs? Join the discussion here: 

1 comment:

  1. Haloti Ngata won the US High School rugby title with his school (apparently Salt Lake City has a small Tongan community who inherited their homelands love of Rugby) and Haloti could play anywhere from 1 to 12. I'd fancy Vonta Leach as a hooker too - no-one's gonna stop him at short range, another old fashioned FB who would probably translate well is John Kuhn - maybe as a 7 running, tackling and providing the link man.


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