Former Sharks centre Tristan Blewett on Major League Rugby with New Orleans Gold and trying out for the New Orleans Saints in the NFL.
How did the opportunity to try out with the New Orleans Saints come about?
‘The hype around the NFL is insane. Two weeks before the MLR season ended, I got a call from the Saints inviting me for a trial. From that, they invited me to a camp. It went so well. The trial was a day before the camp started, so there were very few other players there and I had about 40 scouts and coaches watching me. I had to do all the combine drills which people usually take months off to train for. They showed me what to do, how to do it and I had to do it. Athletically, I coped, but I know very little about the game, so they want me to learn. They are going to watch me and teach me, and maybe in the next year or two I can sign if I want to.’
What skills do you think translate from rugby to the NFL?
‘The general ball skills, being able to change direction and speed training were useful. Where it caught me out a bit was that I was on the defensive team and everything is moving backwards. It is a lot of backtracking. Also, having that helmet on was very different. I don’t even play rugby with a scrum cap. NFL coaches also tend to be a bit more finicky about things like your positioning and how you take off.’
The rugby/football crossover can’t be understated. Nola Gold GM Ryan Fitzgerald was a former scout for the Senior Bowl and worked for a couple NFL teams. Tristan Blewett brings athletic, open field speed with some nice hands.
— Adam Ney (@sayneykid) June 10, 2019
What pushed you to move to the US?
‘It was a bit of a fluke. I have an Irish passport and in 2018 my career with the Sharks had come to a bit of a standstill. I was pushing my agent to get me back into Europe, but the competition to get a place in a European team was tough, especially as I wasn’t playing regularly. Out of nowhere I got a call from America. I had heard of the last attempt to form a league. I spoke to a few friends and family and decided to try it out. If it didn’t work, I felt I was young enough to move again. It was pretty much a gamble for me, but it ended up better than I thought [he signed for Louisiana-based New Orleans Gold].
Why do you think your Sharks career stalled?
‘I was taken by surprise. I thought I had a good senior debut season in 2017. Maybe [former Sharks coach] Rob du Preez and I clashed a bit too much. Maybe there was a focus on size in the backline. I couldn’t really put it together. I stuck around longer than I should have. All my stats were saying the right things, but obviously Lukhanyo Am and Andre Esterhuizen had the experience and performed when required. I just think I didn’t get my chance.’
What was the most challenging aspect of adapting to the MLR?
‘It was the experience on the field. As an example, I was playing under Pat Lambie at the Sharks. Through that, you learn to be critical of everything you do and become detail-oriented. In the USA, guys are just out of college and the professionalism is not what I am used to.’
#TBT | Cam Dolan and Tristan Blewett were on fire and combined for three tries the last time the Gold faced off with the Legion! 🔥💥
Don’t miss out on the action and tune in to @CoxSportsTV or ESPN+ @ 6:30 p.m. CT on Sunday to catch all the action!
— NOLA Gold Rugby (@nolagoldrugby) May 30, 2019
USA rugby is referred to as a ‘sleeping giant’. Do you feel an interest in fifteens is growing in the country?
‘If this competition keeps growing and they can start paying athletes what they do in the NFL and basketball, it is going to be insane. Already, you are seeing athletics Olympians who don’t get chosen go into the sevens. If that starts filtering through to fifteens, the USA could be dangerous.’
What is the plan for next season? How will you divide your focus between the NFL and MLR?
‘I have signed a three-year extension with the Nola Gold. But is it going to work hand-in-hand. The Saints’ season will finish in December and Major League Rugby kicks off in February. Now that I have the time to stick around in the USA, I can put a bit more time aside for my football and give it a proper shot.’ – DYLAN JACK
Tristan Blewett signs 3-year extension with the Gold!
— NOLA Gold Rugby (@nolagoldrugby) July 2, 2019