x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Miles Craigwell: I get my glory in hitting

The Americans have a new weapon even though Miles Craigwell, the latest recruit from American football, only picked up a rugby ball for the first time in July.

Miles Craigwell picked up a rugby ball for the first time in July and five months later will be turning out for the United States sevens side this weekend in Dubai. 
Amy Leang / The National
Miles Craigwell picked up a rugby ball for the first time in July and five months later will be turning out for the United States sevens side this weekend in Dubai. Amy Leang / The National

DUBAI // The prospect of lining up against granite-tough New Zealanders like DJ Forbes and Lote Raikabula in your first competitive rugby match would be enough to prompt a whole week of insomnia for most people, let alone a few sleepless nights.

Pay a little thought, then, for Miles Craigwell, the American novice who only picked up a rugby ball for the first time in July.

Tomorrow morning he will run out on to Pitch One at The Sevens and find some of the world's finest exponents of rugby's abridged version in opposition, New Zealand.

Scared? Not likely. "In rugby, you can hit someone and get up and hit another person right next door, so that is pretty satisfying," Craigwell, 24, says.

"There is a lot of aggression and physicality, I just needed to pick up some of the technical things and learn the rules of the game."

In truth, Craigwell has shared a sports field with many players who would dwarf anyone who is appearing at the Dubai Rugby Sevens this weekend.

Following a sparkling college career in American football, Craigwell was drafted to the Miami Dolphins as a safety.

However, his opportunities were limited and when he found his status being downgraded in the NFL to that of a practice player, he decided to pursue other options.

"I had been playing football since I was four and I needed a change. This is perfect," he said of his switch to rugby this summer.

"It is a little bit of a jump, but between the two sports - football and rugby - there is a lot of crossover, so it made the adjustment easier.

"I played on defence, so I was out there flying into wide receivers. It is quite similar. One big difference is in football, after you hit you can celebrate, but in rugby after you hit you have to hit again, or you might be on offence.

"In football you have shoulder pads and helmets, so you can just crash in, but in rugby you have to be a little more controlled in order to protect your body. I get glory in hitting anybody, really."

Al Caravelli, the United States sevens coach, has found American football to be a fertile recruiting ground in recent times, especially since the format earned Olympic status.

Leonard Peters, a former Chicago Bear, proved such a success in his first season on the IRB series last term, he has already graduated to the USA 15s team.

Caravelli has high hopes that Craigwell will follow suit, and believes more American football players will see rugby as a viable alternative because of its entry into the 2016 Olympics.

"When we talked about the future and rugby being in the Olympics, that attracted [Craigwell] immensely," Caravelli, a former Argentina sevens international, said. "He thought to himself, 'I could stay in the United States and play on a domestic stage, or maybe go and play on the world stage. That is more appealing to me right now'.

"We have thrown him into the deep end. He is very powerful and his defensive ability is scary.

"He hits so hard, he is very explosive."

pradley@thenational.ae