Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

01 Feb 2008

Dhani Jones to Play in Rugby Championship

The day before the Super Bowl, former Giants/Eagles/Saints/Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones will compete for another championship. Jones will play "five or 10 minutes off the bench" for Blackheath rugby club against the Cornish All Blacks for the EDF Energy National Trophy. I know very little about rugby, but this seems to be a much lower level than, say, Australia's State of Origin series. Jones started for the Bengals this year, which doesn't carry a lot of weight around the NFL, but still qualifies him as an elite athlete on a global scale. I'd expect him to be a complete and unstoppable terror on defense, though I'd keep the ball out of his hands on offense. I'm actually very intrigued by this and would love to watch it.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 01 Feb 2008

34 comments, Last at 04 Feb 2008, 8:16pm by Tom D


by Bill (not verified) :: Fri, 02/01/2008 - 7:49pm

I'm sure he's athletic enough, but tackling in rugby is much different from in football. Giving up an extra foot or two is much less important than controlling the ball carrier on the way to the ground. A lifetime football player may have a hard time adjusting. It'll be interesting to see.

by Tim Kirk (York, UK) (not verified) :: Fri, 02/01/2008 - 7:50pm

Could be interesting. Rugby (Union) has definite rules that tackles must include wrapping up with arms, just hits are not allowed - and will tend to results in sin-binning. Also with no helmets the rules are tighter about high swinging arms in tackling as well...

I'm sure he will be great athletically, but I wonder how much difference the mental adjustments will make. I agree that this would be fascinating to watch.

by JasonK (not verified) :: Fri, 02/01/2008 - 7:56pm

The real question is whether the rugby rules allow for celebrative air-guitar dances after ordinary tackles.

by mm (not verified) :: Fri, 02/01/2008 - 8:10pm

i always found that ex-football players wound up causing/receiving the vast bulk of player injuries.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Fri, 02/01/2008 - 8:35pm

re 3:

No the real question is whether or not bow-ties are allowed as part of the uniform. That or if poetry readings are allowed at press conferences.

by Harris (not verified) :: Fri, 02/01/2008 - 9:05pm

The biggest question will be whether he can learn to tackle without putting his head in front of the ballcarrier. That's textbook in football but an excellent way to break one's nose in rugby -- a lesson learned the hard way, as I and my deviated septum can assure you.

Also, didn't the Bengals re-sign him? Wouldn't playing international rugby be the kind of unsafe activity that would get banned in a contract?

by Christopher (Wales) (not verified) :: Fri, 02/01/2008 - 9:15pm

To give some idea of the level of these teams, he will be playing on the 32nd best team in England and against the 28th best (based on current league standings).

Of course, this is a cup competition that carries less weight than the league, but it isn't exactly an amateur/just for fun type of game.

Will be interesting to see how he gets on.

I don't think he will do too badly, the main concern I would have had is about stamina - but only playing 10 mins should really make that a non-issue. The impact of tackles etc should not be a problem for him either. As long as he knows what he is doing in rucks and mauls, he should do quite well.

by bubqr (not verified) :: Fri, 02/01/2008 - 9:40pm

I've played 4 years of american football, and did rugby this year, and while being a lifelong rugby fan, once you're on the field, there are 2 bothering things :
-Really tough to restrain yourself from blocking guys while your mate has the ball. Really weird.

-How can these guys run around holding the ball like LJ Smith ? I do feel that in defense they could play the ball way more, which they don't do much.

And I did try to strip the ball a lot during the games, and while it worked at times, i found myself being tortured by opponents, who have the right to do everything with your arm when you try. It hurts.

by Vincent Verhei :: Fri, 02/01/2008 - 9:59pm

6: Jones signed with the Bengals after the season started last year. That contract expired when the Bengals' season ended.

by Rex Grossman: Eyebrows of DOOM!! (not verified) :: Fri, 02/01/2008 - 10:22pm

Judging by comments made by both himself and his agent, Dhani is likely to resign with the Bengals.

Dhani was one of the few bright spots for us on defense, this season. He came in very late and played solidly.

That said, with our recent LB injury curse, I hope he's careful in the game...

by MarkB (not verified) :: Fri, 02/01/2008 - 11:35pm

The article refers to "amateur" and "semi-professional." He should be knocking people out, if he can stay within the rules.

by remiel (not verified) :: Sat, 02/02/2008 - 1:34am

Those are division 3 teams in a sport which is very top heavy. Most elite college programs in America probably have better athletes. On the other hand as someone who plays both sports it seems very likely he'd be pretty bad at rugby. Tackling's the only skill that really transfers from linebacker, and the difficulty is that the skill in rugby is not pounding the ball carrier (although that helps) it's hitting the guy with the ball at the right time, as the ball is constantly being passed, and hitting anyone without the ball is an penalty.

by KSR (not verified) :: Sat, 02/02/2008 - 3:04am

I'll be very interested to see how his conditioning holds up. 10 minutes probably isn't a good indicator, but the biggest difference I've seen between rugby and football is the tempo of the game: football is very stop and go, rugby is consistent, with play continuing until a penalty occurs. He's only playing 10 minutes, so I doubt it'll show up. I'm sure he'd be a terror in rugby league play though.

by remiel (not verified) :: Sat, 02/02/2008 - 8:55am

Ironically for a game that stops more regulary, rugby league is much, much more fitness intensive than rugby union. Union players rely on the fat guys at the front to run into each other for extended periods of time so they can get some rest.

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Sat, 02/02/2008 - 12:18pm

I would have thought that he might have some trouble with ball handling. I am assuming that they will play him at flanker, probably on the blind side. Even if they just try to use him around the pack and to cause trouble in the at the breakdown there will probably be times when he should be touching the ball. If he can't do it well it might hurt his team more than the opponents, if they try not to give him the ball he might end up getting in the way. It is really important that players arrive from deep around the base of rucks which means there isn't really any way to stay involved with play and avoid the ball coming to you.

Also if he finds himself on the floor I would expect the opposition to give him a serious raking. Rugby at that level has some nutters playing in it.

by Admore (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 12:15am

I wish some billionaire like Mark Cuban would recruit skilled football players in the USA who aren't going to the NFL and train them in Rugby Union with the best coaches for a few years, then see what they could do.

I think the huge USA football playing population and the very high level of athleticism would translate into good results, but not dominance. (Ex: USA could beat Ireland or Wales, but not the "Big Five".). For that you'd have to play rugby from the cradle like the Kiwis and Aussies.

(For it to really work the USA would have to field teams in European competition for East Coast Teams and in the Super 12, or 14 or whatever it is now for West Coast. (If you're having to fly from Dunedin to Johannesburg you may as well fly to LA or Seattle.))

I played a good bit of high school football in Texas, and then messed around with Rugby Union in pick-up/casual leagues in New Zealand. My first observation is that rugby hurts more and injures less. My second is that it's possible to overcome ingrained/trained instincts of football, but that the constantly thinking about not blocking downfield, not hitting a guy who just passed, not driving a head and shoulder into a guy for no other reason than he's there, is hard. It takes a step or two away from your game, though it gets easier.

@8 - I ended up doing a "rabbit punch" on the ball. Football awareness of taking the ball can be a very disruptive force in rugby, but yes, I almost got my shoulder dislocated the first few times I tried it.

by Jason (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 1:15am

"I think the huge USA football playing population and the very high level of athleticism would translate into good results, but not dominance. (Ex: USA could beat Ireland or Wales, but not the “Big Five”.)."

I think the US would dominate teams like New Zealand if we had any interest in the sport.

New Zealand for example has the population of South Carolina. Even our 2nd Tier athletes should be plenty good enough to dominate if they devoted themselves to it

by FullMoonOverTulsa (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 1:26am

Any interest? So competing in the World Cup is no interest?

by Jake (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 2:04am

18: I was in England during the World Cup. The US lost every game. When you lose to Tonga, an island with 1/3000th of the population and less than that in terms of prosperity, "competing" isn't a very apt description. The US is the richest nation in the world and one of the most populous. If some billionaire heir got obsessed with rugby in college and decided to make the US a powerhouse in rugby he'd have the athletic resources to match his financial resources. Pat White types, Option QBs, skilled LAX players, guys who played Special teams or roving Safety in college, even power forwards who aren't good enough for the NBA....
The thing is, in Europe they don't have any real collegiate athletics system. For soccer they sign kids practically out of elementary school and develop them in youth teams. Rugby players abroad might learn from the womb the rules so they're instinctual, but there's not the pool of people who take athletics as seriously and at a level that would be professional anywhere else in the world.
Plus athletes in the US generally play multiple sports. Its not unusual for a player to be in the NFL when he didn't even play until he was 16, or for a player to play basketball and football in college.
Rugby to me isn't that interesting to me to be honest. But I have little doubt that the US athletes who aren't quite good enough for the NFL (or play lacrosse) could form a formidable team if someone put any kind of real money and time into it.

by Jason (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 6:40am

"Any interest? So competing in the World Cup is no interest?"

That is correct is evidenced by the US's lack of success in Soccer. Right now the vast majority of talented US athletes pursue either baseball, basketball, or football.

by James (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 9:54am

Just a quick point - the State of Origin series is actually rugby league, rather than rugby union. And, curiously, it's one of the rare all-star type events which actually inspire some sort of passion.

by BBS (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 12:30pm

Anyone else notice the title of the article?

"NFL star adds swagger to Blackheath".

I say Blackheath for the cup now that they've got some swagger ...

by FullMoonOverTulsa (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 1:30pm

20 - I meant, topically, the RWC. The US qualified, entered and competed, which suggests that there is in fact some interest in the sport. To suggest that there is no interest at all is simply not accurate.

by Jason (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 1:47pm

"The US qualified, entered and competed, which suggests that there is in fact some interest in the sport. To suggest that there is no interest at all is simply not accurate"

Like I said there is no interest nationally. Go to any Super Bowl gathering and see how many people know the rules for Rugby. The fact that a few people in the country play it does not show interest

by FullMoonOverTulsa (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 2:07pm

Go to an NFL game to guage interest in rugby? Why not just determine the active membership in the national RFU and count the number of clubs, and conclude that there is in fact some interest? What do you mean by "nationally"?

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 7:04pm

Vince, State of Origin is rugby league, and thus not real rugby, which is rugby union, and what Jones is playing.

Second, a higher level than State of Origin would be what started this weekend, which is the Six Nations. Heck, the Heineken Cup is a higher level. So is the Guinness Premiership, the French Championships, the Celtic League, etc. Why? Well, first of all they play rugby UNION, and second, those tournaments feature international rugby union players playing for their home clubs.

But enough on that. Cool story. I'll be curious to see how he does, and hopefully we'll get more of our top athletes in the States to play rugby. There is no reason whatsoever that the United States should not win the Rugby World Cup every four years, with our population and talent level in athletics.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 7:08pm

14: That's easily one of the more ignorant comments that I've ever read in my life. Clearly, you've never been in a ruck or a maul in your life, and you don't understand that in the modern rugby union game, EVERYONE rucks and mauls, not just the forwards.

League is for vaginas.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 7:15pm

25: It was just recently that USARFU started to get their heads out of their asses, and they've still got a long, long way to go. And on the TU and LAU level, it's even worse. Don't even get me started on some of the nonsense that goes on with, say, USA Rugby South...

However, the interest in American rugby is growing. The number of high school clubs that are playing grows every year, and there is a great deal of growth in collegiate rugby, particularly among women. The level of play is improving across the board among men's clubs, but (IMO) the manner in which USA Rugby has structured the competition is not conducive to building the strongest possible national team. A good first step would be to get someone like Cuban (who played briefly at Indiana and with the Dallas Harlequins) to invest a great deal of money into a pro league. Another step would be to push for NCAA acceptance.

Oh, and by the way, someone on here put down Wales Rugby. Would that be the same Wales who beat England AT Twickenham yesterday? :-p

by Madison (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 7:42pm

Sophandros, normally I like you. Please don't make me mad.

Interesting, though. I wonder how he got on. Certainly some players from both sports could compete usefully in the other. I'd have loved to have seen how good a running back Jason Robinson could have been, for example. The difference for NFL players is the continued activity, but linebackers are probably better equipped for that than linemen. What is important to remember, though, is that flat speed is slightly less important in rugby because of the passing. Overpursuing could be a problem.

by gavinr (not verified) :: Sun, 02/03/2008 - 9:27pm

After the fullback kicks out on the full for the 45th lineout of the 1st half, to the polite claps of whatever crowd is there, I think he will get bored to tears and walk off.

by Admore (not verified) :: Mon, 02/04/2008 - 2:27am

@28 - Did they? Cool. Good on them. Nothing against Wales, who I think punches above their weight, but you'll admit that in general you'd pick SA, Australia, NZ, England and France to beat them most games. I was only saying that a reasonably trained, but super athletic, USA could probably get to that level in about a decade. I'm not saying we'd dominate it, just that we COULD win and might pull the occasional big win v England and the like.

@17 - Im not sure population is the only factor. By that logic, you'd expect Russia to dominate Holland in soccer, and they don't. China has about a 73 medal lead on Australia for the Olympics they've both competed in. To put that in perspective approx. 1.3 billion vs approx. 20 million.

@30 - Well, that's Northern Hemisphere Rugby for you - dull, dull, dull. Except for France. ;)

by Vincent Verhei :: Mon, 02/04/2008 - 4:59am

UPDATE: Well, Blackheath lost in a blowout, 61-15. There is a write-up here, although I confess I understand very little of it. Jones apparently looked impressive in his brief playing time.

Also, here is a deeper look into Jones' joining the team and his training.

by joel in atlanta (not verified) :: Mon, 02/04/2008 - 11:54am

I can't stand the whole "if we cared about this or that sport we'd dominate" theory of u.s. athletic exceptionalism. It's a huge, huge myth that we have automatically better athletes than other countries. What team sports do american athletes overwhelmingly dominate in? We do tend to produce great sprinters, but there's no evidence that American basketball players, baseball players or soccer players are more skilled than foreign players. France and Italy are not known for being fitness-crazed nations but have routinely produced the best soccer teams recently. Eastern europe and mexico produce great boxers. African nations are producing great soccer players, long distance runners and basketball players right now. We don't have a monopoly on athleticism. It only looks that way on ESPN.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Mon, 02/04/2008 - 8:16pm

You know we have the best basketball and baseball players because we pay the most and most of the players are Americans (I think the NBA is about 1/3 foreigners right now). If there were better players out there right now, they would come to America and try to cash in on the huge salaries.

Of course this is just in relation to the developed world. I can see why a poor person from Brazil or Nigeria would have a hard time just getting to the USA.

Also, I'm pretty sure the average NFL team is way more athletic then any national soccer team. I mean could you see Plaxico Burress playing soccer, with his speed and jumping ability? Not to mention the fact that he is willing to mix things up a bit.