When the Rugby Union World Cup kicks off this evening it will be no surprise to see a gaggle of scouts from Rugby League in attendance.
But you might be surprised to discover sprinkled among them representatives from another football code – the National Football League. The Daily Telegraph reports on one man in particular, Jack Bechta, an NFL super agent and scout. Over the coming weeks Bechta will be the eyes and ears for many NFL clubs as he pays close attention to the finest stars Rugby Union has to offer.
Ever since the explosive emergence of Jonah Lomu, the giant New Zealand wing, in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, NFL clubs, now with the world’s richest team in the Dallas Cowboys, have always kept a keen eye on the Rugby Union and League players.
In the past we have seen players from Rugby League be tempted by the glitter of the NFL. The likes of Jarryd Hayne, who was spotted by Bechta, left the New South Wales side Parramatta Eels to join up with the San Francisco 49ers and Hayden Smith who made an extraordinary transition from his position as a lock with the Saracens to playing tight end for the New York Jets.
Smith comments on his experiences in both sports:
“It took a lot of work and wasn’t easy. I grew as a person by taking myself outside my comfort zone. American Football is about short bursts of speed and power. The guys are bigger but then they don’t have to have the endurance that rugby players do.”
British coach Aden Durde, who witnessed the development of Jarryd Hayne close up last summer when working as an intern with the Dallas Cowboys, talks about the difficulty players face when transitioning sports:
“There will undoubtedly be many players at the Rugby World Cup who, through their physical strength, or their speed, or their imagination, will catch the eyes of people thinking about potential NFL players. But there is a long hard road ahead of anyone who wants to take the plunge and a lot of hard work before any team would give someone a roster spot ahead of players who have come through the college football system.”
While Lomu did not make the switch to the NFL, Hayne and Smith have at least shown what is possible and there is no doubt that teams like the Cowboys have the purchasing potential to tempt some of Rugby’s modern day powerhouses.