April 28, 2011
Former Scotland international Gavin Hastings slots a kick for the Scottish Claymores © Getty Images
While there have been a number of players to have crossed codes from union to league or even dabbled in football or cricket whilst holding down a rugby career, the transition from rugby player to American footballer or Aussie Rules player is a journey less travelled. So in this week's Scrum Sevens we trail the fortunes of the hardy few who put their reputations on the line and attempted to make the grade in the national sports of America and Australia.
Terry Price (Wales and Buffalo Bills)
Price was still a teenager when he starred in Wales' 1965 Triple Crown winning side. Two years later his career as a Welsh rugby union international was over after eight matches at fullback, in which he scored 45 points. During his short spell in rugby union he played for Llanelli, Leicester University, London Welsh and Hendy and went on tour to New Zealand with the British Lions in 1966 as a replacement fullback. In 1967 he became the first five-figure transfer from union to rugby league when he joined Bradford Northern. During a four-year spell with Northern he amassed nearly a thousand points and represented Wales and Great Britain at international level. In 1971 his goalkicking exploits landed him a move to America and brief spell as a specialist goal-kicker for the Buffalo Bills, the New York National League team.
Gavin Hastings (Scotland and Scottish Claymores)
As his highly successful rugby union career came to an end after winning 61 caps for Scotland, 23 as captain, and six caps for the British and Irish Lions, Hastings ventured across to America to try his luck as a rookie kicker at the American Football's World League training camp in Atlanta, Georgia, in March 1996. He tried out as a kicker for the Scottish Claymores. The 1993 Lions captain had amassed 733 points in total in international rugby union. However the International Rugby Hall of Fame inductee was less successful in American football. He missed four of his 27 extra point attempts, and missed his solitary field goal attempt, although the Claymores won the World Bowl that year at Murrayfield.
Naas Botha (South Africa and Dallas Cowboys)
Botha won 28 caps for South Africa at fly-half in a career that spanned 12 years from 1980 to 1992. The inspirational No.10, who first played for his country at 22, was renowned for deadly boot, from hand and tee, which earned him the nickname "Nasty Booter" from the British press during the British & Irish Lions' tour of South Africa in 1980. Botha would have gone on to win many more caps but for South Africa's sporting isolation during the apartheid period. However he was the highest points scorer in South African rugby history with 312 points until his mark was surpassed by Percy Montgomery in 2004. It was this kicking prowess that earned him a trial with the Dallas Cowboys in 1983, but he didn't quite make it, settling instead for a role with the San Antonio Gunslingers in the lesser USFL.
Richard Tardits (US Eagles and New England Patriots)
Tardits was the most successful of those who ventured across the Atlantic. He made his name as an American football player for the New England Patriots, but he had previously represented France under-21 in rugby union after growing up with the game in his hometown of Biarritz. His foray into American football began with the University of Georgia, from where he progressed to the Phoenix Cardinals as a 1989 NFL draft pick after setting a Georgia school record of 29 career quarterback sacks. However he swapped the Cardinals for the Patriots a year late and went on to play three seasons, primarily on the special teams. Tardits continued to play rugby union during the off season and returned to the game full-time to break into the US Eagles side, making his debut and collecting 24 caps including two at the 1999 World Cup.
Karmichael Hunt (Biarritz and Gold Coast)
The Australian qualifies for our list by virtue of a brief stint with Biarritz in the French Top 14 last season. He made 15 appearances for the French side and scored three tries from centre during his year-long venture into rugby union. However it was his five-year association with the Brisbane Broncos rugby league side that carved out his in lofty standing in Australian sport. He made more than 120 appearances for the Broncos, scoring more than 50 tries, and represented Queensland and Australia as a roaming fullback. In 2009 he signed a deal with Gold Coast to play in the AFL from the 2011 season, and he took up the contract after his brief stint in France.
Mike Pyke (Canada and the Sydney Swans)
The 24-year-old Pyke is currently plying his trade in the AFL with Sydney Swans, but began his career in rugby union with Scottish side Edinburgh in 2004. He made his international debut for Canada as a 20-year-old against Japan and signed for French Top 14 side Montauban in 2006. He racked up 20 caps for Canada, including five tries and four World Cup appearances in 2007, as a fullback and winger. However his career in rugby union was jeopardised by a series of injuries at Montauban and he sought other opportunities in professional sport , winning a contract with the Swans in Australia in 2008. His recruitment was greeted with scepticism from a number of quarters but he quickly proved his worth and he has now made more than 20 appearances for the AFL side.
David Dixon (New Zealand schoolboys and Minnesota Vikings)
Like most Kiwis, Dixon grew up as a rugby union man. He represented New Zealand at schoolboy level, but his sporting track changed when he moved to Arizona State University and took up American football. Dixon was only the second Maori to play professional football in America, following Riki Ellison, after being selected by the New England Patriots in the 1992 draft pick. He was released by the Patriots in pre-season and then also by Minesotta Vikings, but the Vikings re-signed him in 1994 after a brief stint with the Dallas Cowboys. And from there he went on to play for ten seasons with the Vikings, alternating between offensive and defensive guard. Dixon played more than 150 games for the NFL team before retiring from the sport in 2004.
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