The story of Psalm Wooching – a Division 1 college football player who turned down a chance at the NFL to pursue rugby – is immediately enthralling.
While his transition to rugby was never going to garner the same attention as Jarryd Hayne’s sojourn to the NFL, it poses the same perennial question – how would a player from one immensely physical contact sport fare in the other?
When the 6’3, 100kg Huskies linebacker announced on Twitter back in February that he was to pursue a career in rugby, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Friends, family and fans all saw and respected his passion for the game.
— Psalm Wooching (@PsalmWooching) June 30, 2017
In fact to say Psalm Fa’afoisia Pulemagafa Wooching is ‘transitioning’ to rugby is inaccurate. It’s his first love and the first sport in which he excelled in, having played the fifteen man code growing up in Hawaii with the Kona Bulls.
A big, dynamic athlete, Wooching spent his college football career making tackles, although it’s noteworthy that he also took to the field as a running back during his High School days in his hometown of Kailua-Kona. And it’s his ball carrying abilities that will come to the fore once again in rugby, with a position in the backs a natural fit for the powerful Hawaiian.
And after announcing his intentions, it did not take long for Wooching to make it onto the radar of professional clubs on the other side of the Atlantic. He earned a trial with Pau which was allegedly brokered by former Ireland head coach Eddie O’Sullivan. The home of All Blacks Colin Slade and Conrad Smith among others, Wooching would have taken an immediate step up in class.
More recently he put in impressive displays at the Mauritius 10s tournament with Harlequins, as well as a stint with Hong Kong Scottish.
While he continues to ply his trade at the Seattle Saracens. it is understood his raw potential and work ethic impressed at both clubs.
Describing his style of play and love of rugby on Harlequins website, Wooching said: “Rugby has always been my first true love in sport, it was always a motivational game I played in the off-season to tune my skills for American Football.
“My game is to be good with ball in hand and good at running those crash lines and breaking through – as well as offloads. My defence speaks for itself, being a linebacker defence is always my game.
Crucially footage of Wooching at Pau and Harlequins show that while he obviously has the prerequisite physical traits for the sport, he also possesses the footwork and skill that you’d associate with a player that has been involved in the code from an early age.
America is full of big athletes that may view professional rugby as a possible alternative to the NFL. However many have a skills and knowledge deficit that ultimately inhibits a clean transition to Rugby Union. This is clearly not the case for Wooching.
Yes, he’s faces stiff competition for a professional spot on the wing – a position in Europe that is increasingly dominated by large, dynamic, explosive wingers.
Yet while the fifteen aside code beckons, Wooching has made no secret of his desire to represent the US Sevens team at the Olympics, and that may well be his Holy Grail.
No matter how the chips fall, his rugby journey will be one to watch.
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