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Rugby star Christian Wade chases NFL dream

AFP-JIJI

Former England and Wasps wing Christian Wade has signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills as he pursues his dream of forging a career in the NFL, the team announced on Monday.

Wade shocked English rugby last year after announcing his plans to switch sports and find a place with a gridiron team.

The 27-year-old joined the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, which aims to find and nurture athletic talent from around the world and groom them for the NFL.

The Bills announced on Wednesday that Wade had been assigned to the team’s squad as a running back for the 2019 season.

The Bills, and three other teams from the AFC East, would get a roster exemption to account for Wade’s inclusion, allowing them to have 91 players on the roster instead of 90.

Valentine Holmes, a former professional Australian rugby player, will join the New York Jets; Jakob Johnson, a former German Football League player will join the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and Durval Neto a former American football player in Brazil will join the Miami Dolphins.

Wade reacted with news of his signing by the Bills on Instagram.

“I’m a lost for word right now,” Wade wrote. “Give god thanks.”

Several England and Wasps rugby internationals congratulated Wade beneath the post.

“Proud of you brahhh,” England and Saracens lock Maro Itoje wrote while former England fly-half Danny Cipriani added: “Never in doubt my brother.”

Wade was regarded as one of the most devastating finishers in English rugby during his club career but found opportunities to represent England at international level limited.

Although he earned a call-up as a replacement on the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia, he was largely ignored by various coaches, the final straw coming when he was left off a 50-man training squad for the 2015 World Cup by then-coach Stuart Lancaster.

Wade is aiming to follow the example of other English rugby players who have joined NFL teams through the pathway program, notably former England Sevens player Alex Gray, who is now on the books of the Atlanta Falcons, and Christian Scotland-Williamson, the former Worcester Warriors player who joined the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018.

The 23-year-old Holmes is listed as a running back/wide receiver/kick returner for the Jets.

Holmes represented Australia at the 2017 Rugby World Cup, scoring 11 tries in the quarterfinals and semifinals.

Holmes, who will take a pay cut from his NRL days to join the Jets, participated in a pro day in Florida last week in front of league scouts and ran a 4.5-second 40-yard (36.5- meter) dash.

Four players took part in the NFL Pathway Program in 2018- Moritz Boehringer (Cincinnati Bengals), Christopher Ezeala (Baltimore Ravens), Tigie Sankoh (Cleveland Browns) and Scotland-Williamson (Steelers).

Neither of the four saw action last season as the Pathway players become members of the club’s practice roster and are not eligible to play in games.

It gives them a chance to learn a new sport without the fear of being cut.

The AFC East teams were all chosen to receive the players in a random draw.