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Rugby Players That Switched To the NFL

As we all know rugby is a game of strength, power, and speed and whilst it’s hard to have a combination of all these, if you do, you’ll make one hell of a rugby player. 

Whilst in the US we aren’t as familiar with the sport of rugby as we are with American football, due to the level of popularity, both sports can share some similarities.

The NFL delivers explosive bursts, technical playbooks, and defined positions. Which is similar to what we discussed above when it comes to the combinations of skills needed for rugby. 

If you’re in the US and reside in states where gambling is legal, American football will likely be your go to, along with other popular sporting markets like the NBA, soccer etc. Similarly, in the UK, rugby is one of the top sporting markets along with soccer, basketball, cricket and horse racing. A seasoned punter will likely be familiar with both sports on betting sites. 

The sports differ but are still overly similar. So, it’s unsurprising that players sometimes move from one to the other. Let’s look at some rugby players who have switched to the NFL in recent years: 

Louis Rees-Zammit

While still in his prime, Louis has made a big crack into the NFL. Louis is a Welsh winger known for his extraordinary pace and scoring ability. He debuted professionally at 18 and became a prolific try-scorer in the Gallagher Premiership. 

However, his international recognition came from his exemplary performances in the English top flight. Since then, he has become a key player for the Wales national team, earning him accolades in the Six Nations and international fixtures. As of March 2024, Wales were ranked 10th in the world having dropped 2 positions from 8th, being overtaken by Italy and Australia. Though Louis is an exemplary rugby player, he still has a mountain to climb in mastering the technical playbooks of the NFL.  

Daniel Adongo

Daniel started and made a name for himself as a rugby player in his native homeland, Kenya, before moving to South Africa in 2007 to join the Sharks Academy. While with the Sharks, he played as a lock at the U21 and senior levels before joining the Bulls in 2011. He, however, did not stay there for long, as he eventually moved to New Zealand in 2012.

In 2013, he made a significant career change and moved to the NFL to join the Indianapolis Colts, where he played outside linebacker despite his experience in American football. While in the FFL, he started on a practice roster but was later elevated to the active roster and featured in two matches.  

Christian Wade

Unlike the rest, Christian Wade is probably the most high-profile rugby player to try his hand in the NFL. In October 2018, Wade joined the NFL’s International Pathway program, which allowed him to enter the NFL sport despite coming from outside the US. 

Before joining the NFL, he was a former England wing. He scored a 70-metre touchdown for the Buffalo Bills in a pre-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts in New York. He also ran 82 tries for Wasps during his spell with the club, making him the third-highest scorer in England’s top-division history.

However, despite his superb performance, Wade never made it to the active roster while playing for the Buffalo Bills. Three years later, he quit the team and returned to rugby by joining the Top 14 outfit Racing 92. 

Jordan Mailata

The move by Jordan Mailata to quit rugby league and join American football was one of the success stories that attracted a few more rugby players to switch to the NFL. Despite having no prior experience in American football, Jordan could adapt frantically and master the game’s requirements. Just three years ago, the Australian could not even name positions in the game; all he knew was the knowledge he got from watching the film Blind Side. However, he has proved that people can learn new skills with practice. Since joining the NFL, Jordan has featured in 13 games, with 10 of those games looming large on the tacking, centers, and quarterbacks’ eyeliners. 

Hayden Smith

In what he didn’t know would be a big part of his life, Hayden started his career in rugby just to kill time after he finished his studies and was awaiting graduation. He joined a local club in Denver, where he became a valued member of the rugby union. 

Within three years, he was able to excel in the field and had managed to win a Premiership title before starting all four of the United States matches. After the 2011 Rugby World Cup, he began eying an American football career. He managed to have a workout with the New York Jets, where he was signed on April 3rd, 2012, in the practice squad. 

While with the New York Jets, he managed to have a workout with the following teams:

  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • Dallas Cowboys  
  • Washington Redskins
  • New Orleans Saints

By October of the same year, he had made it to the active roster and had caught his first and only NFL pass on December 23rd, 2012. 


The allure of making mega-bucks in the NFL has always attracted many rugby players to join it. However, it is also said that the NFL has trashed the dreams of many rugby fans, and joining the game has always been a huge gamble. While some different rugby players have enjoyed various levels of success, more and more are joining the NFL and trying to make it to the top. 

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