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English rugby star Wade signs for the Buffalo Bills


England right wing Christian Wade runs to score a try against the Barbarians in their international friendly at Twickenham in London on May 31, 2015.

Photo: AFP

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

Wade last year shocked English rugby union after announcing his plans to switch sports and find a place with an NFL 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 league.

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

The Bills, and three other teams from the American Football Conference East, 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 union player, has joined the New York Jets; Jakob Johnson, a former German soccer player has joined Super Bowl champions the New England Patriots; and Durval Neto, a football player from Brazil, has joined the Miami Dolphins.

Wade reacted to the 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 union internationals congratulated Wade beneath the post.

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

Wade was regarded as one of the most devastating finishers in English rugby union 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 overlooked from a 50-man training squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup by then-England coach Stuart Lancaster.

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

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

Holmes, of Townsville, represented Australia at the 2017 Rugby World Cup, scoring 11 tries.

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 40 yards (36.6m) in 4.5 seconds.

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

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

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

The American Football Conference East teams were chosen to receive the players in a random draw.

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