Jack D'Arcy looks at some of the interesting characters in the USA's first ever professional rugby side – who will face Leicester Tigers in pre-season.
“… And he’s in the end zone! From a scrimmage on the five-yard line he’s touched down for a five!”
Professional club rugby has finally arrived in the land of the free with the formation of the National Rugby Football League (NRFL).
The franchise’s first team, the Rough Riders, will play Leicester Tigers in an exhibition match on 8 August at the home of the Philadelphia Eagles.
However with no current rugby professionals being drafted by the American outfit who has made the Rough Rider’s 60-man roster? And will any of this bunch of enthusiasts attract the wandering eyes of Richard Cockerill? We take a look at some of the former NFL stars, track athletes, college players and nearly men to make the cut…
Ahman Green – The All-Star
A name familiar with NFL fans, Ahman Green, the former Green Bay Packer’s running back starred in the football franchise for over a decade. Green was selected for four pro bowls, the NFL’s all-star game, between 2001-2004. But at 38 years of age time is quickly running out for this once lucid strike runner. Retired since 2009 surely six years in the athletic wilderness has taken its toll but it will nevertheless be intriguing to witness how this once renowned competitor fairs in the centres.
Michael Ray Garvin – The ‘new Carlin Isles’
Posting the best 40-yard dash (4.28 seconds), 60-yard shuttle run (11.05 seconds), and vertical jump (46 inches) at the NRFL combine this All-American athlete might just be rugby’s next YouTube viral sensation. Michael Ray Garvin fell short in his bid to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 after failing to make the American sprint team. Not surprisingly he is aiming to start his rugby career out wide after a 100m personal best time of a blistering 10.10 seconds, eclipsing sevens hero Carlin Isles’ best ever performance of 10.24. Despite no previous rugby experience surely Garvin’s boundless athleticism will lead to some sort of future with ball in hand.
Alex Bannister – The Pro
Alex Bannister enjoyed an illustrious six seasons in the NFL representing the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens at wide receiver. He also made the coveted All-Pro team in 2003, meaning he was the best player in his position that season. At 36 years of age speed may have leaked from the veteran’s game but will hope an aptitude for contact sports will lead to equal success in the second row. Although, at just 16 and a half stone, he may need some additional brawn if he is to pack down against the game’s finest engine room operators.
Tala Esera – The biggest and strongest
At over 21 stone Tala Esera is looking to the front row to make a bludgeoning impact on the fifteen a-side game. The biggest man on the Rough Rider’s roster, the Hawaiian never made it to the NFL after failing to be selected in the 2008 draft. He did however impress at 2015 NRFL combine bench-pressing 102kg a colossal 42 times in a row, more than any other player. Esera must, of course, learn the nuances of front row play before he is let loose against the Dan Coles and Davit Zirakashvilis of this world but certainly possesses the stature and raw strength to fill a prop sized hole.
Joel Yogerst – The one you might have heard of
The name Joel Yogerst may ring a few distant bells with Bristol’s most ardent supporters. The American scored twice in his first ever game of rugby turning out for the club in a friendly match against Cambridge University. Described as ‘tough as nails’, by his teammates, Yogerst is hoping to represent the Rough Riders on the wing, moving from his American football position of fullback. Fellow roster member, Brock Davies also has experience in English rugby, with the Kiwi centre playing for Leicester academy and Bath in pre season fixtures.