English Premiership Rugby

Rugby League to Rugby Union Converts

Jack FairsContributor IIIApril 24, 2014

Rugby League to Rugby Union Converts

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    With Sam Burgess on his way from South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL to play rugby union for Bath in the autumn, now is as good time as any to look at how rugby code converts have fared in the English game.

    There is always a period of adjustment as rugby league stars find their feet in their new sport. They have to learn the rules of the breakdown, find their best position and, on the most basic level, settle into their new club.

    Most rugby league converts find themselves deployed in the back line in rugby union, with the tackle area a real stumbling block for most new players to the game. 

     

Chris Ashton

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    Chris Ashton has been one of the major cross-code success stories. The Saracens winger moved to rugby union in 2005, just two years and 52 appearances after making his Super League debut for Wigan Warriors.  

    Ashton is a natural finisher, scoring 30 tries for Wigan and 92 in his five years at Northampton Saints. He has represented England in both codes and stormed onto the international scene in rugby union with four tries against Italy in 2011.

    Ashton's willingness to work off his wing and go looking for the ball won him great praise in the early part of his international career. However, more recently, his tackling technique has been questioned—his tendency to tackle high a remnant from his rugby league background.

Jason Robinson

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    Jason Robinson is the pick of cross-code success stories. After a successful career in league, Robinson switched to union in 2000. 

    The full-back/winger lit up both forms of the game during his dazzling career with his electric pace and nimble feet—skills gave him the tools to be a hit in both codes of the game.

    Robinson had a brief dabble playing union with Bath before continuing his rugby league career at Wigan, scoring 137 tries for the club. The full-back then made the switch permanent with Sale, earning a World Cup winner's medal with England and even captaining his country.  

Andy Farrell

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    Andy Farrell changed codes in 2005 after completing one of the most successful rugby league careers in the history of the sport.

    After scoring 134 points for Great Britain and achieving all there was to achieve in the game, Farrell took on a new challenge at rugby union side Saracens.

    After being played at flanker by his new club, Farrell was picked eight times by England at inside centre. Since retiring from the game, Farrell has joined the England coaching set up where he takes charge of son and England fly-half Owen.

Joel Tomkins

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    Brother of Super League stars Sam and Logan, Joel Tomkins has made a splash in rugby union since his move to Saracens.

    Tomkins played 117 times for Wigan, with his last appearance coming in Wigan's Challenge Cup Final victory over Leeds Rhinos in 2011. 

    Since his switch to Saracens, Tomkins has continued at centre, scoring four tries and winning three England caps in the absence of Manu Tuilagi. After enduring an injury hit period, Tomkins will be hoping to bounce back and continue his promising union career.

Shontayne Hape

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    Shontayne Hape was a New Zealand international in rugby league before later representing England at rugby union.

    After a successful spell at Bradford Bulls in the Super League, Hape crossed codes in 2008, joining Bath Rugby. The inside centre then went on to represent his new country, scoring two tries in 13 appearances.

    However, after the 2011 World Cup, Hape fell out of favour both at England and at Bath. He moved to London Irish for a one-year stint and now plays for Montpellier in France.

Lesley Vainikolo

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    Lesley Vainikolo excited many rugby union fans when he changed codes in 2007. However, he did not prove the unstoppable force he was in rugby league.

    Vainikolo scored 598 points in 152 games as a winger for Bradford Bulls before moving to rugby union with Gloucester. Vainikolo scored five tries on his Gloucester debut and a total of 36 during his five-year spell at the club. 

    Since then, Vainikolo has moved to play his rugby in France, first with La Rochelle and, more recently, with Rugby Athletic Club Angerien in the third tier.

    A promising start that somewhat fizzled out.

Stephen Myler

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    Stephen Myler came through the St Helens academy before joining Widnes Vikings in 2003. The stand off scored 180 points in 49 appearances before making the move to Northampton Saints after a year at the Salford City Reds.

    Myler has been in rich form this season for the Saints and earned England recognition. With competition at fly-half fierce in the English game, Myler may not get the international caps of other cross-code comrades, but his conversion to rugby union remains a successful one.

Kyle Eastmond

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    Kyle Eastmond is soon to be joined by the newly converted Sam Burgess at Bath Rugby and the pair could end up fighting for the same position at inside centre. 

    Eastmond made his name in rugby league at St Helens scoring 433 points in four years and earning an England call up. 

    The fleet-footed 24 year-old then made the switch to rugby union with Bath before being picked for England Saxons in 2013 and earning full honours during England's tour of Argentina. Eastmond is now playing some great rugby in a young and exciting Bath back line.

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