NFL's Ellison catches up with his rugby past

Lynn McConnell

Lynn McConnell     13 Feb 2015     Lynn McConnell

His great, great uncle Tom Ellison was the captain of the 1893 All Blacks, a member of the New Zealand Native team to Britain in 1888-89 and the writer of one of the early bibles of the game in New Zealand, The Art of Rugby Football.

"I came out here last year and spent some time with my grandfather and we went around New Zealand and searched our roots out a little bit," he said during a visit to see the Blues' final preparation for their Super Rugby opener against the Chiefs in Albany on Saturday night.

"That is what has been so cool, learning that history and trying to come back and connect with it as much as possible," he said.

Ellison said he didn't know a lot about rugby but he was aware of the tackling style and said it was regarded as the right way in NFL circles and some clubs were attempting to introduce the style as a way of combating the concussion issues plaguing the game in the United States.

Seeing the All Blacks play in Chicago last year had been a special thrill although he wasn't able to attend due to match commitments with his Minnesota Vikings side the next day.

However, he had seen plenty of rugby as his high school had several Samoan and Tongan players and they invariably watched big games together on television.

"Certain guys are really into it and others have never seen it before," he said.

But three years at school in New Zealand in his youth, in Christchurch, had left its impression and he said the All Blacks were the [New York] Yankees of rugby.

"If you know anything about rugby at least you know about the All Blacks, and I always knew about them," he said.

"They are getting more television time in the United States and people are starting to hear about them more now. Even with Sevens in the US, rugby in general is starting to become more popular so you have more opportunity to watch it."

And what about THAT ending to this year's Super Bowl. Ellison was on a flight in the US before connecting to New Zealand and still hasn't seen it, although he is well aware of what happened and felt the wrong call at the end may have been a case of 'paralysis by analysis'.

Ellison returns to pre-season training next week after end of season surgery on his ankles and he has been on rehabilitation while in New Zealand.

"We officially don't start pre-season training until the end of April but between now and then you pretty much have to get in shape on your own," he said.

It was a long off-season and he was amazed that rugby players had such a brief off-season.

"Some of these guys don't have an off season at all which is insane. I don't know how these guys play so many games in such a physical sport and stay so healthy.

"If anything the NFL could take note of that and see what you guys are doing over here," he said.

There was pressure going on players to do their bit in reducing concussions and players were fined if they were deemed to have gone for players' heads.

Some teams, including the Super Bowl losers, the Seattle Seahawks, were teaching their players rugby tackling.

"You can actually see the difference in how their defense tackles compared to most teams and obviously if you are tackling the right way you are reducing the risk of concussion.

"But the thing is when you wear all those pads you feel you are pretty much invincible so you're just throwing your body around especially at the NFL level," he said.