With Alex Gray moving to the NFL, could more players switch?

Former England Seven’s captain Alex Gray is sure to have raised a few eyebrows recently by announcing his official move to the NFL side Atlanta Falcons.


While not the only English inclusion into the American football league recently, with Alex Jenkins and Efe Obada joining the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers respectively, he is certainly one of the most high-profile professionals to make the rare switch across the pond; having previously played for Newcastle Falcons and London Irish.


This news has shocked a few in the Rugby community because it’s just not a career move you often see within the sport, but you have to ask why not? Are the differences between American Football and Rugby so disparate that you couldn’t utilise the skills of one to benefit in the other?


We’re sure you’re probably aware of the rules of Rugby by now: two teams, fifteen players on each, both looking to take the ball into their opponent’s half and score those all-important tries. What you might not be so sure about, however, is the rules of American Football. You have also heard the discussion about whether professional Rugby players could make the jump over to American Football, after all, the games have some pretty big similarities – and you manage to get by without any padding!


So, what are the rules of American Football, for those of us who aren’t in the know? Well it has two teams, each has eleven players and gets to make unlimited substitutions. Same rules as Rugby apply in terms of scoring points, as both teams are looking to run the ball into their opponent’s goal-line, or to use the proper terminology: “end-zone”. Each team gets four attempts (called downs) to move the ball at least ten yards up the field, if they succeed, they get another four downs goes to move it another ten yards, but if they fail then the other team gets their turn.


A game is clocked at sixty minutes, though in actuality with stoppages and its infamous commercial breaks, your typical game can last up to three hours. Each team gets the opportunity for three time-outs in each of the game’s two halves. It is because of this that American football is a lot more akin to a game of chess, with contact plays and then counter-plays with incredible strategic planning in place – whereas Rugby is a lot more free-flowing and spontaneous.


American football supposedly has Rugby to thank for its inception as it was said to be born from British colonists traveling from Canada and introducing the sport to the Americans – as with history, the games soon became entirely separate entities since the two have grown up apart on different continents. Does that mean that the skills from playing Rugby all your life would not be able to transfer well into American Football?


In terms of contact, there is massive difference between the two sports. Rugby players often mock American Football players for the amount of padding that they wear, when in Rugby padding is kept to a minimum – this is a misunderstanding, though. The reason American Football players wear so much padding is that tackling of any form is perfectly legal within the rules of the game, whereas in Rugby the tackle is designed with the opponent’s safety in mind.


In terms of geography, American Football is played and watched pretty much exclusively in America, which Canada and Mexico always having a slight interest. Compare this to Rugby, which has a global following, specifically in places such as the UK, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.


Cost is also another factor that massively differentiates the two, with a considerable amount of expensive equipment needed to host a professional game of American Football. Rugby, on the other hand, is a lot more flexible in terms of affordability with plenty of rugby equipment wholesalers available within the UK.


If you’re wondering whether skills from Rugby would be transferable to a game of American Football, you’d be right in thinking there are some similarities, but levels of training are completely different in most senses. A few New Zealand All Blacks players once made the switch to see if it was possible and certainly learnt of the differences between the sports.

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