NFL & the Rugby World Cup: World Cup winner Martin Johnson selects his ideal starting XV containing NFL players

Rugby World Cup winner Martin Johnson is a big fan of the NFL
Rugby World Cup winner Martin Johnson is a big fan of the NFL

With the Rugby World Cup well underway in Japan, former winning captain Martin Johnson has selected his ideal starting XV made up of current NFL players.

Here's what Martin Johnson, a big NFL fan, told NFL UK when he selected his ultimate rugby XV made from current NFL players…

THE BACKS

15 – Odell Beckham Jr.

“I put lot of thought into this position. It used to be more of a safe position with a lot of defensive play, catching and kicking. Now it’s far more attacking so I've gone for a wide receiver with great hands which is Odell Beckham. He can run too, and he's got pace but really it was his hands for the catching that got him the nod.”

14 – Adrian Peterson

“If you look at him at his pomp, what a player. What an athlete. Just a phenomenal runner. Aggressive. He's described as a violent runner and when you watch him you can see why.

I put him on the wing rather than in the middle as on some of his tape when he gets to the corner he tip-toes up the touchline. Loads of touchdowns when you think he's going to get pushed out he always just scores in the corner.

He could easily play any position across the back-line but because of that I've put him on the wing.”

Adrian Peterson is a future Hall of Fame running back

13 – Saquon Barkley

“I've gone for a current running back. I wanted to equate the positions obviously as much as I could and with running backs and hard running centres, there's a similarity there.

It was a tough call, it could have been [Ezekiel] Elliot or [Todd] Gurley but I've gone for Saquon Barkley from the Giants. I just think he's got a bit more agility and a bit more acceleration. He's tough and he'd be a real handful with the ball in his hands. Also, I think he could handle the defensive duties as well.”

12 - Landon Collins

“I love safeties. I love them setting the tone with their physicality and hitting people and the good ones have great hands too. I've gone for Landon Collins with the Giants.

He's also scored at Twickenham which was a bonus. He made the best run of the game in 2016 against the Rams! You watch his tape and some of the interceptions he's made over his career and he’s got fantastic hands. He’s a great tackler and has a great technique, not just reckless. He's a measured tackler which is what you need in that position.”

11 - Julio Jones

Julio Jones is set for a big game against Green Bay
Julio Jones is a dominant wide receiver in the NFL

“You watch Jones play and wow. He's so big and strong but he can also move and change direction without slowing down. I've seen some cornerbacks interviewed about playing against him and some didn't even want to talk about him, they were just that in awe about his ability.

He's tough, he can catch, he's got great hands, he's got speed and he can run. He could also play tight-end or running back. He had to be in the team, so I've picked him on the left wing. What a player.”

10 - Patrick Mahomes

“I've picked a 10 who's a quarterback. A lot of the top quarterbacks are quite old and don't move that well, no names... Guys like Brady!

This guy must be able to move so I've gone with a young gun, Patrick Mahomes. He can move, he can run, he's got that vision and he's calm. He'd look like he'd make a fantastic number 10. He's the new guy that's going to be the next All-Pro quarterback.”

9 – Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson in action against the Packers
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson in action against the Packers

“Scrum half was a tough one, obviously in rugby you play both ways. 9 can be played in a lot of different ways in rugby. I've gone for a guy who can run, who can direct play and is also good in traffic. When you're playing scrum half you're involved around the breakdown in rugby so there's lots of bodies around. You've got to be able to handle the physicality, you've got to be able to fight through that traffic and still see the bigger picture.

So, I've gone for Russell Wilson from the Seahawks. You look at his highlights and a lot of those best plays are in those situations. He's got bodies all around him and he fights through it and either gets a run or gets a pass away.

So, Wilson for me is a good enough athlete to be able to play in the back line. If you've got a multi-threat number 9, someone who can pass and run, as a defender that's always difficult as it is when you've got a multi-threat quarterback! So, Russell Wilson, even though I'm a 49ers fan, is my scrum half.”


THE FORWARDS

1 – Aaron Donald

“One of the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL at the moment. Not very tall so perfect for a loosehead prop. He'd be a great scrummager and he'd be a great guy round the park hitting rucks and mauls. He'd also be able to carry the ball and be destructive doing that and get you going forward.”

2 – Maurkice Pouncey

“Hooker equates to being a center in the NFL. You're in the middle of it and are usually a little bit smaller than the guards, who are more like props. You've got to be smart, you're in there, you've got to work with your quarterback and as a hooker you've got to be able to work with your scrum half in the scrummage.

So, I've gone for a center and I've gone with Maurkice Pouncey of the Steelers. The great thing with him, if he gets injured he's got a twin brother, so he can come and play!”

3 - David DeCastro

“A tighthead, which is a key position in rugby union, equates a little bit to being a left tackle and guard. It's sort of the key-stone. I've gone with a guard because tackles are usually a bit too tall to play there and I've gone with David DeCastro, also a Steeler.

He's been one of the top guards for a number of years. He also went to Stanford which is a decent rugby college. He can pull, move and trap and all those things so he'd be perfect at tighthead.”

4 - Alejandro Villanueva

“Second row are the keys, the top athletes in the team, obviously. At number 4 which is normally your biggest second row and more of a mixer, I've gone with a guy from the Steelers, an offensive tackle, Alejandro Villanueva.

He’s a huge guy, 6'9'', over 300 pounds, but actually quite athletic. When I researched him, I realised he has played rugby as he grew up all over the world, so that was in his favour. He also is quite athletic, he scored a touchdown on a reception once from a fake field goal, check it out!”

5 - DeForest Buckner

“Number 5, the other second row, is probably a bit more of an athletic position normally. It's a bit biased as the 49ers are my team but I've gone with their young defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. 6'7''. He can move, and he's got some Samoan heritage in there which is good for his rugby. He's an up-and-comer, he got to the Pro Bowl this year and I think he's going to be a future All-Pro, finger crossed. Calais Campbell would have also fitted in here and maybe would have deserved it more but I'm a 49ers fan!”

6 - Rob Gronkowski

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski retired after winning the last Super Bowl

“This back row is special. This back row is unbelievable. Back row players are similiar to linebackers and tight ends, utility guys who can do a bit of everything and you can have very different athletes depending on their role. The key for a rugby team is to have the balance there.

So, at number 6, my blind-side flanker, it is the monster that is Rob Gronkowski. I know he's been a bit banged up and a bit injured but in his pomp the man was incredible. He's second row size, 6'6'', 19 stone-ish, but he can run and he likes to mix it up. He's not just a catching tight-end, he also likes to block and he likes to be in there.

He's got that rugby look about it him. He's got the look and passes the look test and he passes the hands test. He's my big back-rower, the tallest one.”

8 - Khalil Mack

At 8 I've got the awesomely impressive Khalil Mack. When you watch him, he's pushing big strong guys out of the way with one hand. He, I think, would be an awesome ball-carrier, an awesome defender and he would intimidate teams.

There are some great athletes in the NFL, Von Miller, J.J. Watt and all these guys but Khalil Mack is my choice as 8. You know he's good but when you watch the detail for five minutes, just wow.”

7 - Luke Kuechly (C)

“This guy too when you watch his tape just had to be in as number 7. The openside flanker is traditionally a guy that makes a lot of tackles, more of a defensive player and often can be more of a disrupter.

I've gone with Luke Kuechly from the Panthers. He also looks like a rugby guy, he's very modest, very humble, doesn't look the deal if you just see him off the field but on the field he's so smart and knows what he's doing.

I've picked guys who their peers say are very intelligent players not just phenomenal athletes. They also know what they're doing which they need to do in rugby because it's not all set plays obviously. He just anticipates play so well. Anticipation is so important in any sport, particularly rugby.”

You can follow the NFL 2019/20 season with more than 100 live games on Sky Sports. You can also watch The NFL Show (Saturdays) on BBC One and NFL This Week (Tuesdays) on BBC Two.

Related NFL content

Like what you've read?
Help your friends Know It All by sharing this article to your social media.

Most Read

The Sporting Life team provide their free tips for Saturday's action across a range of sports1

Saturday's Bets of the Day

A full round-up of the Sporting Life team's best fancies across Saturday's action, including racing, football, darts, golf and rugby.

Don't miss Ben Linfoot's latest preview2

Value Bet: Take Mehd to bounce back

Our racing expert Ben Linfoot seeks out the value on Qipco British Champions Day with Mehdaayih fancied to bounce back in the Champion Stakes.

Premier League and EFL football gossip and transfer rumours
3

Paper Talk: Cook chase on

Liverpool and Chelsea are monitoring Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook and there's Manchester United and Arsenal news too in a busy edition.

Oli Bell's Champions Day selections
4

Oli Bell: Saturday best bets

Five fancies for our pundit on QIPCO British Champions Day including an 18/1 chance in the closing Balmoral Handicap.

Benbatl scorches to victory at Newmarket5

Saturday's racing preview

Keith Hamer fancies Magical to win again on QIPCO British Champions Day - he has a tip for every race.

Most Read

The Sporting Life team provide their free tips for Saturday's action across a range of sports1

Saturday's Bets of the Day

A full round-up of the Sporting Life team's best fancies across Saturday's action, including racing, football, darts, golf and rugby.

Don't miss Ben Linfoot's latest preview2

Value Bet: Take Mehd to bounce back

Our racing expert Ben Linfoot seeks out the value on Qipco British Champions Day with Mehdaayih fancied to bounce back in the Champion Stakes.

Premier League and EFL football gossip and transfer rumours
3

Paper Talk: Cook chase on

Liverpool and Chelsea are monitoring Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook and there's Manchester United and Arsenal news too in a busy edition.

Oli Bell's Champions Day selections
4

Oli Bell: Saturday best bets

Five fancies for our pundit on QIPCO British Champions Day including an 18/1 chance in the closing Balmoral Handicap.

Benbatl scorches to victory at Newmarket5

Saturday's racing preview

Keith Hamer fancies Magical to win again on QIPCO British Champions Day - he has a tip for every race.

Racing Tips

Don't miss Ben Linfoot's latest preview

Value Bet: Take Mehd to bounce back

Our racing expert Ben Linfoot seeks out the value on Qipco British Champions Day with Mehdaayih fancied to bounce back in the Champion Stakes.

Oli Bell's Champions Day selections

Oli Bell: Saturday best bets

Five fancies for our pundit on QIPCO British Champions Day including an 18/1 chance in the closing Balmoral Handicap.

Simon Holt previews the action

Simon Holt: Going into 'Batl

Benbatl can back up his recent win to land the QEII on Champions Day, according to Simon Holt - he has three Saturday selections.

Next Race Off

10:30 Marseille-borely
1
(8)
Panameras
J: A Molins
4
(1)
Pierre Precieuse
J: S Leger
6
(10)
Greenshoe
J: M Guyon

Football Tips

The Sporting Life team provide their free tips for Saturday's action across a range of sports

Saturday's Bets of the Day

A full round-up of the Sporting Life team's best fancies across Saturday's action, including racing, football, darts, golf and rugby.

Sporting Life's Premier League preview package

Saturday's Premier League tips

Mark your card for Saturday's Premier League action with our best bets & predictions, including Chelsea and Manchester City.

The latest Sporting Life Accumulator

Sporting Life Accumulator

This week's Sporting Life Accumulator involves four teams from the three EFL leagues, enhanced to 18/1 with Sky Bet...