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Friday Feb 18, 2022

Top Five: Sporting Stars that began with Rugby

Many athletes who have gone on to reach the pinnacle of their sport, made their start in Rugby. Whether as a schoolboy, senior or professional all of these athletes played rugby to aid in honing their abilities. Below is a list, in no particular order, of the most successful of those athletes.

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Aaron Ramsey – EPL;
Before Aaron Ramsey was scoring 15 goals in a season for Arsenal, he was a keen rugby player. Playing Rugby Union and Rugby League growing up in Wales, Ramsey had a strong interest in the sport. He was also very good. Being approached as a schoolboy by scouts from St Helens Rugby League. He was also asked to trial for the Newport Gwent Dragons in Rugby Union. Ramsey played mostly at fly half or on the wing, saying in a 2013 interview he preferred fly half and being in the thick of things.

Unfortunately for Rugby, Ramsey had to make a decision in his teens between the two sports. He ended up choosing football and that’s where his storied career began. Ramsey has had a stellar career with 40 premier league goals in 262 games for Arsenal and 70 appearances with 20 goals for the Welsh national team.

Steven Adams – NBA Player;
The Hulking 6’11” NBA enforcer started as a lock in his early rugby playing days. Growing up in Rotorua, New Zealand, Adams played his junior rugby there. He was no doubt a big kid which is not hard to believe given his current stature. However, when Adams was 13 he realised he was not going to be an All Black and subsequently made the switch to Basketball. The rest, as they say, is history.

Adams is now one of the top big men in the world. He was a no. 12 pick in the 2013 NBA draft. He has played for a variety of different NBA teams including OKC, The New Orleans Pelicans and the Memphis Grizzlies.

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Jordan Mailata – NFL Player;
The Hulking 6’8 Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman started his career as a prop in rugby league. Mailata was a junior player for the South Sydney Rabbitohs before getting scouted by the NFL. It took Mailata a few seasons to hone his craft in the NFL as the technicalities of the game took time to grasp.

At present, Mailata has developed into one of the best left tackles in the league. Recently signing a ginormous $88 million contract extension.

Alexander Volkanovski – UFC Champion;
The 5’6″ Australian was never the hulking frame like others on this list. Instead, what Volkanovski lacked in size he made up for in grit and toughness. Two attributes developed in Rugby that have served him effectively in his fighting career. Despite Volkanovski’s small stature he played as a prop for his Rugby League team. He was a good prop at that, often receiving man of the match awards. Incredible considering the size disparity he was no doubt placed under.

Volkanovski is currently the undisputed UFC Featherweight champion of the World. He is also the no.2 in the UFC pound for pound rankings, second only to Kamaru Usman.

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Jarryd Hayne – NFL Player;
This was a tossup between Christian Wade and Jarryd Hayne. Wade showed great promise in NFL preseason games, but was never able to make an active roster. While Hayne did and that was the deciding factor. Many Rugby players have now attempted to make the switch to NFL careers. Daniel Adongo (Kenyan 7’s) Valentine Holmes (NRL, Cowboys) are other recent examples.

However, none of the above managed to have the same impact as Hayne. He is the only convert from fulltime professional Rugby to make the switch successfully and get actual NFL regular season game time, as an offensive player (that is not a placekicker or punter). Hayne was utilised mainly at running back and as kick returner. He struggled with the complex nature of the sport and its intricacies. Nonetheless, the 8 game San Francisco 49er amounted 52 rushing yards and 72 return yards in his NFL career.

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