August 19, 2015
Few people took notice, but I was intrigued when the San Francisco 49ers invited rugby star Jarryd Hayne to training camp. Hayne, prior coming to the Niners was playing in the NRL (National Rugby League) for the Parramatta Eels. He had earned multiple All-Star honors and was named MVP of the league in 2009 and 2014. In 2009, he was named the best player in the world by Rugby League International. Hayne has done all of this before the age of 27.
There will be plenty of doubters that he can make the transition, but I am not one of them. Most of the doubting Thomas’s don’t know diddly squat about rugby. To play rugby at the international level, you have to be a gritty, tough and a good athlete. You don’t see many three hundred pounders on a rugby field for one thing, the rigors would make them faint. These guys are high tailing down the field bumping and bruising through grabbing arms and colliding bodies without padding.
So, let’s eliminate the toughness factor and look at the skill differences. Hayne is fast and runs 4.53 forty with a 6’2”, 226-pound frame which is very sufficient in the NFL. One of the big differences in rugby versus playing running back in the NFL is the running style. Successful NFL running backs have to take on tacklers head on with a low center of gravity with ability shed off arm tacklers. Rugby players don’t have pads, so they run straight up and utilize speed and strength to break off runs. Maybe Hayne won’t make it as a running back, but he could fit in a returner, flanker and wide receiver.
In his first exhibition game against the Houston Texans, he had 33-yard kickoff return, 13-yard punt return and five carries for 63 yards. Not a bad debut for some one that has never played American football before. He definitely gained some notoriety and respect from some of those doubters. He features some good qualities that I really like such as stiff arming. When you see a 6’ 2’ runner who stiff arms it only makes sense from a leverage point of view. His rugby style will benefit him when he sees open field. He is appearing to have a strong base and legs which again is good for breaking off arm tacklers.
It is a good start for Hayne and if he makes the transition, this may open the doors for other rugby players. This argument has been going on for decades about this transition and comparison. I think it is only valid for certain types of athletes that have the strength, speed and stamina not so much a skill argument. Jarryd Hayne fits that criteria. He is a flat-out great athlete and could have played many of sport if he was interested. Salute Jarryd Hayne!!