It’s one of those uncommon stories you occasionally hear about.
A man is sitting on his couch one year and the next he’s playing on a field with world-class athletes. Although in Paul Mullen’s case, that downtime was spent a bit more productively.
During that period, Mullen actually spent little time on his couch, instead coaching local youth rugby players and working on his thesis about the repurposing of seaweed to help curb shoreline erosion.
“I’ve been playing with the Galveston team for the last few years. I was getting my master’s so you’re super busy, super stressed, and rugby at the time was more to relive some stress,” Mullen said after Friday’s practice ahead of the U.S. national team’s match against Scotland at BBVA Compass Stadium at 8 p.m. Saturday.
“The last year has been a complete roller coaster for me,” he said. “My studies were tough, then to all of a sudden get an opportunity to play with the SaberCats was fantastic; all of a sudden now the national team, it’s been incredible.”
Mullen’s grandfather is from Boston, which enabled him to represent the United States on its under-20 squad. He has been part of the Houston SaberCats, playing in its first year as well as Major League Rugby’s inaugural season, and graduated from Texas A&M just last week.
“Coach (Justin) Fitzpatrick with the SaberCats got in touch with me (last fall). He said come on up so I gave that a shot, then the last month I heard from the USA rugby team,” he said.
At 6-feet, 270 pounds, Mullen is a barrel-chested prop — something of an offensive tackle in football although blocking is generally against rugby rules — for the national team.
On Saturday, the Americans will host Scotland, the No. 6 team in the world, in the second game of the Emirates Airline Summer Series.
The match comes on the heels of last week’s 62-13 thrashing of Russia in Denver, part of a six-game winning streak that sees the Americans peaking with the World Cup in Japan about a year away. The U.S. is No. 15 in the world, its highest ranking since 2015.
“This is a top-five team in the world,” U.S. coach Gary Gold said. “This is what we wanted and it’ll be a good measure in terms of how far we’ve come as a team.”
“This is the real deal; we’re playing a world-class team,” Gold said. “I know that maybe they’re leaving a few guys at home but they’ve got strength and depth.
“Scotland is such a well-oiled machine … we don’t have a huge amount of players who get to play at that level of competition. … For us, that will be a great opportunity to develop as a group.”
Mullen is impressed by how rugby has been received during his time in Texas. He’s embracing the playing experience heading into just his second national-team start.
“It’s amazing,” he said, “it’s a dream come true, really.”