This month Christian Wade signed on with the Buffalo Bills for pre-season training. It will be a very interesting to see how he progresses as he tries to make it in American Football. So what will be the differences between the two sports?
One of the immediate differences is the speciality of each playing position. Unlike rugby there is a much greater variety in requirements between the different roles. Regardless of this all rugby positions have a much much higher aerobic fitness demand than american football.
Christian Wade will be playing Running Back. This means he can forget about kicking the ball, tackling, catching high balls, passing the ball or creating space and drawing defenders. Instead his focus is on picking which running lane he will go through and how to evade defenders.
It will be interesting to see if they use him like they did with Jared Hayne, where he returned punts and played on special teams in defending kick returns. This makes use of the many skills he has developed playing rugby.
The main demand differences physically is that the aerobic demands will be almost nothing compared to rugby. With 35 seconds rest between plays and him unlikely to be on the field for more than 1-2 out of every 4 at best then he will not find any aerobic challenge.
What he needs to have is maximum power for fast acceleration, an ability to evade tacklers and then strength to handle the contact situation. He will regularly encounter much bigger guys than he has in rugby. The contact situation is also more physical with the helmet allowing people to enter the tackle lower and with more force. He will probably look to add more strength & muscle if he continues with the sport.
If he is successful with his change in career he will have the opportunity to develop his physical conditioning. Rugby players spend around 9-10 months a year playing rugby or in pre-season training. The NFL has over five months to train on your own and the actual competitive season is just 16 games. This allow for high level conditioning to take place free from the grind and injuries rugby delivers.
I hope he makes it in the transition but feel it will be very hard for him. A key to running back is not just seeing the gaps but knowing which ones will be open and which will not. This will be hard to learn if the game is not natural to yourself. Physically he is no doubt going to be a handful but beating men at running back has a lot to do with subtle agility over pure pace based making people look foolish in open field. Most of Wade’s highlights rely on this over the former.
If they use him as a punt returner then he should do well. Jared Hayne’s best efforts were from this position. However, he averaged 3 yards a carrier from running back which is pretty poor and started only 1 game in his sole NFL season. Time shall tell as the pre-season kicks off in August but camps start in June.
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