What is the Difference Between Rugby and Football?
Rugby and American football are similar sports in nature but are played using rules that are quite different from each other. In both sports, two competing teams of players try to advance an inflated, oblong ball down the field and across the opposing team's goal line or kick it through goalposts. The team that is not in possession of the ball tries to prevent the other team from scoring by tackling the player who has the ball or taking the ball away. Among the main differences between the sports are the number of players in the game, the field and equipment used, how the action stops and starts, how the ball can be advanced and the number of points awarded for various ways of scoring.
Number of Players
In a standard football game, there are 11 players on the field at a time for each team. The number of players on the field in rugby depends on the type being played. The two main versions are rugby union, in which there are 15 players on the field for each team, and rugby league, in which there are 13. In both sports, there also are variations that use fewer players, such as eight-man football and rugby sevens, which uses seven players for each team.
Most players at the highest levels of American football play only offense or defense. When a team gains or loses possession of the ball, 11 new players typically will replace those who had been playing. One or more players also can be substituted into the game at any time between plays. There is no limit on the number of substitutions that can be made during a game, so some players are specialists who excel at one particular task.
In rugby, the same players remain on the field no matter which team has possession of the ball. This means that most players must be versatile enough to play well on both offense and defense. Teams are allowed a limited number of substitutions per game, so some players must play the entire game.
The fields used in both sports are similar in appearance but use different measurements. Both fields are rectangular, with goalposts at each end and white lines marking certain parts of the field. Rugby fields are slightly longer from one goal line to the other — 328.1 feet (100 m), compared with 300 feet (91.44 m) in football — and much wider.
The goalposts are about the same size, although they are wider at some lower levels of American football. Rugby goalposts are H-shaped, with a crossbar 9.8 feet (3 m) off the ground and the uprights 18.4 feet (5.6 m) apart. Football goalposts can be H-shaped but often have a single post in the middle on the bottom, with the two uprights rising from the crossbar. The crossbar is 10 feet (3.05 m) off the ground, and the uprights are either 18.5 feet (5.64 m) or 23.33 (7.11 m) apart. In rugby, the goalposts are on each goal line, or try-line, but in football, they are at the back of each end zone.
Both sports use different sizes of inflated, oblong balls, depending on the version being played and the age of the players. Full-size balls in both sports are roughly 11 inches (27.94 cm) long, are 21 to 24 inches (53.3 to 61 cm) around at their widest parts and weigh 14 to 16 ounces (397 to 454 g), with some variation from one version of each sport to another. American footballs are more pointed at each end, and rugby balls are a little bigger around in the middle. The balls in both sports are often made of synthetic material, but at the higher levels of American football, genuine leather balls are used.
One significant difference for the players is the equipment that is worn during games. American football players wear hard helmets with face masks, firm shoulder pads and usually padding on their knees, thighs, hips and some other areas. Rugby players typically wear little or no padding. Some wear soft padding to protect their ears or shoulders and collarbones, but wearing hard protective gear is not allowed.
Standard rugby games consist of two 40-minute halves, for a total of 80 minutes. Full-length American football games consist of four 15-minute quarters, for a total of 60 minutes. At lower levels of both sports, such as games for youths, and in some other versions, shorter games might be played.
In American football, the clock often stops, such as when a forward pass is not caught by a player, when a team scores, when possession changes and in certain instances when the ball goes out of bounds. The clock keeps running in rugby, although time can be added to make up for time lost during certain stoppages in play, such as when a player is injured. This means that a full-length game is often a few minutes longer than 80 minutes. In both sports, overtime might be played if the score is tied at the end of regulation.
One significant difference between the sports is the way that the action takes place. In football, the game is a series of plays — short bursts of action, each followed by both teams regrouping to prepare for and set up the next play. The action stops for shorter periods of time in rugby, because after a player is tackled, the ball is quickly rolled to a teammate, and play resumes.
Advancing the Ball
Players in both sports try to advance the ball across the other team's goal line. This is often done by carrying it. Football players can pass the ball to a teammate and are allowed to pass the ball forward if the passer is behind the point on the field where that play began. Rugby players also can pass the ball, but can never pass it forward — only backward or sideways.
Kicking the ball to a teammate or even oneself is allowed in rugby. For example, a player who is running with the ball can kick it forward, then pick it up and continue running with it. In football, kicking is allowed only under certain circumstances, and it usually results in the opposing team taking possession of the ball.
The two main ways of scoring in both sports are by advancing the ball across the other team's goal line and by kicking the ball through the goalposts. Different numbers of points are scored for doing these, depending on how they are done or the situation in the game. American football has one additional way of scoring, called a safety, which involves a team being stopped in its own end zone or losing possession of the ball and having the ball go out of its end zone.
On a normal play in football, carrying the ball across the opponent's goal line or catching it in the end zone is a touchdown, which is worth six points. A similar play in rugby is called a try, which occurs when the ball is touched to the ground in the opposing team's in-goal area. A try is worth five points in rugby union and four points in rugby league.
After a touchdown or a try, the scoring team gets a chance to score additional points. In rugby, this is called a conversion, and two points are scored if the ball is kicked over the crossbar of the goalposts. There are several names for this type of play in football — such as an extra point, point after touchdown and two-point conversion — and it is worth one or two points, depending on whether the ball was kicked through the goalposts or advanced into the end zone by either a run or pass. A run or pass usually is worth two points and a kick worth one, but this is sometimes reversed in youth leagues.
Both sports also award points for other kicks that go over the crossbar and through the goalposts. In football, these are called field goals and are worth three points. There are two other types of scoring kicks in rugby — penalty kicks and drop goals. Both types are worth three points in rugby union. In rugby league, a penalty kick is worth two points, and a drop goal is worth one.
There are many other differences between these sports. For example, blocking an opposing player is an essential part of football. In rugby, however, the only player who can be impeded or interfered with is the player who has the ball. Some of the other differences include the limits on the number of opportunities a team gets to advance the ball, the existence of some artificial turf fields in football and the terminology used, such as the names of positions. Also, American football is played mostly in North America, and rugby is a more international sport.
Football is played with a round ball, rugby is played with an oval ball.
I've played football for five years and rugby for one. Football is a lot easier than rugby, in my opinion. Rugby is a fair, honest game and takes a lot more endurance, strength, agility than football does.
The way the NFL is coming down to, is it's just throw the ball up and hope for the catch. In rugby, it's contact on every play, not going 65 yards untouched on an open pass. Everyone who says football is more fun to watch, probably doesn't understand Rugby and until you play it for at least one year, don't diss it.
I play both American football and Rugby. I play for my provincial rugby team in Canada and play with my university football team (McMaster) and I can tell all of the football heads, if you think that rugby players are small and don't hit hard, come to a practice some time. I guarantee that you will be exhausted and bruised. It's not always tackles that hurt you. You get counter-rucked by a charging prop or lock and you will feel like you got slammed by a linebacker as you catch the ball over the middle of the field in football. Not to mention that it takes almost no stamina to play football. I play defensive end and fullback for mcmaster (6'4, 260) and when all my teammates are bent over, sucking in air, I'm waiting for the game to restart. Football may have harder tackles, but it's not nearly as physical.
American footballers are called '5 second athletes' because the average play lasts for '5 seconds.' I hate to do this to you but the next time you watch a game count the time (in seconds) the ball is in play from when the quarterback receives the ball.
Talking about athletes, do you remember the 'Refrigerator? Him playing football tells you all you need to know about American football.
@post 56: Football players wear all sorts of pads to protect themselves. Rugby players hit just as hard except they have on shorts and a shirt. Football players are not faster. They only play for about two minutes at a time while rugby players play a full 80 minutes.
I've played football and now I play rugby, and let me tell you, there is no comparison. Rugby is so much more intense. I want to see what a football player would do in a scrum with a professional rugby team.
@Post 58: If you don't like either sport, then you need to be quiet. It's bad enough that fans of both of these sports attempt to degrade the other even though they have no clue how the sport is played.
All contact sports are "self-policing". The tackler or checker runs as much risk of pain as the player being tackled, so there are limits to the violence of the tackle. Tackles in American football are more violent. Tackles in rugby tend (not always but mostly) more like "pulldowns".
Both are good games. There is nothing to be proven or gained by squabbling between fans.
@post 56: Seriously dude, rugby players are twice the size of American football players. Rugby players don't wear armor. They play with a shirt, and that's all.
I don't like either sport, but I will definitely tell you, rugby players are way harder than American versions.
P.S. I am American.
If American football were to go up against the all blacks, you would be going back to your hot dog van with more broken bones than a car crash victim.
I tried watching AF, but after the fourth tv advertisement within 10 minutes, I got bored and watched ballet instead.
I saw a post that baseball was older than cricket -- no it's not. The English were playing cricket before the declaration of independence was signed.
I think Americans are that ignorant because of your lack of history. The only culture you can relate to is a British heritage.
Not to turn this into a tat-for-tat but, if AF weren't controlled so much by tv adverts and money from sponsors, it could actually be a good sport. But with all the starts and stops and adverts and cheerleaders, it's best you keep it to yourself.
Rugby brings nations together, literally. Blacks became more accepted in South Africa because of rugby. The film is a true story. Anyway, World in Union.
American football players are twice as fast, twice as strong and twice the size of rugby players. American football is exciting and very brutal. They would crush rugby players. Rugby is boring. They don’t block or pass. They play in very closely. Football is wide open. You can’t even compare the sports. American football rocks. Some Europeans, South Africans and Australians are just jealous of American football.
This article seems to be seriously uninformed about rugby. There's not even a mention of the fact that it is far more relentless. I know this is about league but even in that the break as the phase ends is only a matter of seconds.
One thing I have never liked about American football is the whole specialisation and rolling substitutions thing. An entirely different team depending if you have the ball or not? And you can cycle players on or off at your will? That seems ludicrous to me as it seems a cheap get out of having to be an all round player.
I'm not going to make any stupid and naive comments about which is 'tougher' or that padding and armor make AF 'wussier' because clearly they are both demanding sports. But the amazing amount of breaks and time off the pitch waiting seems incredible as I've always thought that you have to improve your weaknesses in a sport rather than just get a player on to do one very short, very specific act and then not have to be challenged doing anything else.
It just seems mad and slightly, well, lazy.
This is a great article! Me and my brother were curious and my dad knows a bit, but this is helpful
Football was around way before rugby, so none of the rugby fans are allowed to say jack, same with cricket -- and our baseball
Football is chess with wrecking balls. Rugby is checkers with sledgehammers. Rugby is faster paced and requires more stamina. Football has specialized players, like the pieces in chess, and relies more on strength and stamina. I like chess and checkers, I like football and rugby.
@amypollick: "most rugby players are average size and weight."
You're kidding right? There are few rugby players under 6ft these days. The backs tend to be smaller, so around 6ft and about 210lbs (though there are plenty taller than that and around 250lbs), but the forwards will be around 6'2" to 6'10" and 250-300 pounds, yet still able to cover five miles in a game, sprint across the pitch and take and deliver big hits all day.
As the lines blur between the forwards and the backs, we're getting more and more players who are 6'5", 250lbs and can still run 100m in 11-12s. Look up players like Jonah Lomu, Matt Banahan, Pierre Spies, Nemani Nadolo, Sireli Naqelevuki.
rugby is the more violent, hard, aggressive and stamina sport but AF hits harder but they wear pads and helmets. There is a 280 pound player in rugby named henry tuilagi and he demolished four or five players at a time!
People go to rugby matches to watch the rugby.
People go to AF to eat hot dogs, see Janet Jackson's breasts and watch the cheerleaders. If AF is so brilliant, why do they need all the extra entertainment?
rugby definitely sounds hard and more aggressive.
thank you for helping me with my homework. I had a venn diagram to finish of football and rugby (obviously).
I'm sorry but there are plenty 300 pound plus rugby players. Jonah Lomu would have had most NFL players for breakfast, then he would have the rest for Lunch and dinner. A lot of the weight in NFL is pure fat, look at their bellies. Don't get me wrong I am in the US and like American football, but I'm not going to pretend that NFL player are the better athletes.
how about we all stop complaining about which is better, because, first of all, no one here can become a pro at rugby or american football, if you are checking up what the difference is between the two sports.
Rugby is immense. I go to an all girls school and whenever I'm out at a park with my mates we play a form of rugby called hurly-burly which is non-contact, unfortunately, and have any of you guys against rugby seen the welsh play. they are absolutely brilliant!!
my dad used to play it. He's 6 foot 3inches and solid muscle! seriously and he's now 55 and an accountant and it is still all there!
American football players are wimps with all that padding and those helmets. It's just plain weird.
While there may be some similarities between the sports, trying to compare them takes one back to apple-oranges comparison. Which is better? They're different, and it's a matter of preference. And in this case, cultural leanings.
As a result of the realities of the two sports, the training principles will vary, as in that AF players train solely for explosive ability, with actions lasting four to weight seconds. When Darrell Green, a great cornerback who ran a 40 yard sprint in 4.4 seconds, finished dead last in a one mile run, he said "never had to cover a receiver for a mile." Rugby players, on the other hand, have need for an aerobic base, and this is another reason you will not see 300 pound rugby players.
To get into debates and arguments about the sports is to overlook the fundamental differences between how the sports have developed along those lines. Yes, the AF players wear pads, but I think that if they did not, then they would need to drastically alter their impact style. A head-on direct impact between two men moving at 16+ miles per hour in opposite directions? That's going to hurt. That is the equivalent of hitting a stationary object at close to 30 mph. The physics make sense, but you're still free to do your own calculations.
There is an interesting video on this at
the National Science Foundation, on the Science of Football, and one can see Newton's Third law of Motion.
So, relax and go enjoy your preferred sports.
I grew up playing American Football (AF) all through my school years in the USA. I moved to UK and have been playing Rugby with a club. Without a doubt, AF hits harder, and when you put on those pads you become fearless plus, you lead with your head.
Rugby is more challenging because it never stops. In AF it takes three hours to play a 60 minute game! In rugby, each player has to be ready to play both sides of the ball.
If you watch AF on tv you'll notice that the linemen are like 300 pounds, and after their respective drives (four downs) you'll see them on the sidelines taking oxygen. In short, AF is more brutal and strategically played and Rugby's non stop nature while having no pads makes it the toughest sport.
I've played both!
And as usual all you rugby fans who think rugby hits harder, has more rules, has more tactics or depends on more than two people have no clue and don't even know AF aside from a few videos. Please do some research with an open mind. No one is asking you to give up rugby!
Historical fact: American football has the largest rule book of any field sport.
American football has a higher structured tactical play system similar to chess (where Rugby is more about opportunities in the moment). Every football player has to know in detail every "play" (structured pattern or plan of attack) in the playbook. And there can be up to 20-100 different "plays" in a book.
Fact: AF is more critically team dependent on the discipline of each player doing their part. Just because you don't carry the ball doesn't mean you aren't a critical part of an attack plan. The ball handler is dependent on you to open holes in the defense (as part of a play attack) or to "obstruct" an incoming defender from tackling your ball carrier (which is illegal in rugby).
Now I will agree that it seems the quarterback and ball handlers get the popular glory on the television, but the play can't work at all without all the players. If you fail in your part, the "play" collapses to the opponent's defense.
The defense has its own playbook, too, and are faced with the same problems.
Rugby is more individualized. Still team dependent but individualized.
Final fact: Rugby is a high contact sport but American football is a high collision sport. American football is not rugby with pads. The hitting tactics are far different, with more varieties and they are more extreme (only some basic tackles are similar).
In some positions, all players do is practice collision hitting and play running. In AF, there are no "obstruction" rules. Obstruction hits are called blocks and make up the majority of hits in AF (more than the ball carrier).
A fullback will collide with an incoming defensive linebacker in order to expose a hole so that the ball carrier (behind him) can pass through or to protect the quarterback.
Note: Rugby Union all-time Martin Johnson is also an American football fan! He is a San Francisco 49ers fan and was invited to their pre-season practice camp where he took the field and got hit a lot. Not only does he appreciate American football, he says that rugby fans have no idea how incredibly violent AF is and how necessary the padding is. He described it as like being hit by a freight train (a professional Rugby Union player appreciating the hitting skill of American football players).
American football is like chess on a battlefield. It is highly, highly structured and organized. Once you learn the basics and see the entire sport for what it is, it's very enjoyable and highly skilled. Everyone has their place and must stick to it perfectly!
What's the problem with American football? It's become too much of a spectator sport! Teams tend to play it safe when it comes to calling battle tactics that won't risk losing possession (like laterals between offensive players). This is why ball handling is limited to a few. There is also too much time allowed for setup between snaps. Coaches and captains should be challenged to think faster on which plays to call or risk a time out.
There needs to be a better assist record for non ball handlers to spread the credit. In basketball it's called the "assist". In baseball it's called an "RBI". A football player making a critical block should be given partial credit for a score.
As much as I love to watch American football, I like to actually play rugby more. More Americans should re-learn the sport that our ancestors also played and was the roots of American football. Just as much as I urge Americans to relearn rugby, I urge rugby fans to really learn the sport of American football. Once you understand it, you'll finally appreciate it.
My Pedigree: I am a former National Champion at Georgia Tech and CFL Player in '94. At 38, I started playing First XV tight head on an international club team in the Gulf. I have played at Dubai 7's.
I can admit and agree rugby is a tough sport, but American football is too. I'd rather tackle in Rugby than have to tackle a Bo Jackson-like running back in American football. Tackling in rugby is easier on my neck and spine. For those ignorant individuals, before you speak too fast, put on a helmet, shoulder pads and other pads which weigh roughly 10kg and run a full series of downs (four to 10 plays on two minutes of clock time), the Nutcracker, or Nebraska drill against an equal sized player. You will find out why there are so many restarts in American football -- and why concussions are plentiful, even with a helmet. Toughness has nothing to do with it.
The average American football tackle is measured at 115g's, but 100g’s equal a concussion.
The three big differences between rugby and football are: the impact of the tackles due to the helmet and shoulder pads; blocking on all plays so every player is engaged; and the fitness level required. Just think what would happen if you could lead with your shoulder or head into a tackle (spearing) or block direct engagement instead of mauling?
Also, think about this: great speed (10.6s and below, 100m), explosion (.90m vertical jump), quickness and size (100kg or greater) cannot be taught, but you can increase anyone's fitness level.
I do believe the two games should be measured differently. They are both tough on your body and heart.
I just hope proper rugby players are making these uninformed comments about American football and not the Peewee footballers who could only play placekicker. Footballers have a tendency to overstate their athleticism, since they play a little man's sport (Napoleon Complex). If you have a problem with my comments, holler back.
I have no fear of rebuttals or banter. All in good or bad humor. --D. Ray
I personally think rugby's fine but i think football's better. my dad grew up in england and played rugby through college. also he is 6 foot 4 and his playing weight was 240 pounds, but from what i understand in rugby, you do not lead with you head in a tackle but in football almost everything is done leading with your head.
When you make a tackle, your head is supposed to hit the ball in their hands. when you run block you lead with your head to drive them. I should know -- i play linebacker and left tackle for my high school.
American football requires tactics. Plays need to be memorized and each player needs to know their own role on the field. Not knowing the play, or where you are supposed to be, or who you are supposed to block, can lead to a touchdown for the opposing team. Where as rugby is much like soccer--no tactic, just chase the ball around.
As for the padding in American football, when the sport was created, there was hardly any padding. But there were many deaths due to the hits, and as the years progressed more padding was added to make the game safer.
Also there is much more hitting and tackling in American football since, unlike rugby, the players are allowed to tackle those without the ball. This increases the chances of serious injury to every player on the field.
I can't tell you how many football players, even with padding, have had serious injuries.
Americans love American football so much because they see the tactics and plays right before them. Everyone works together as a team to accomplish the offense or defense.
The coaches make the play decisions, the players memorize their duties and plays, and then the players set out to accomplish these plays. The team relies on each individual player to do his own job to have a united result.
American football is all about decisions, from every player and coach and whether it's the right one or wrong one can drastically change the game.
@89643: I hope you're exaggerating. I really do. American football players don't wear kevlar vests. American football players wear shoulder pads and pads on their thighs and behinds. The helmets protect their heads and faces during plays.
One reason is because most rugby players are average size and weight. Not that they aren't in great physical condition, but there aren't too many 300-pound, 6'4 rugby players. There are a lot of American defensive tackles that size. As hard as rugby players hit (and there's no doubt they hit *hard*), a hit from a guy who's 5'10 and weighs 180 or 190 isn't anything like taking a hit from a guy who weighs more than a yearling calf. Pads are necessary for that reason.
And injuries can still occur. Every American college football fan remembers the sad case of Chucky Mullins, who played for the University of Mississippi. At a game vs. the University of Tennessee, Chucky took a fall, broke his neck and was a quadriplegic from then on. He fought back, and even went back to school, but died just a couple of years later from pneumonia. He was a courageous young man.
why do they wear full bodied kevlar vests and helmets while playing American football and I don't even know why they even call it football.
The main difference is that rugby is a tactical game and AF isn't. Why? Since rugby has more intense rules, it also makes for a situation where you really have to find your way through the defense, and believe me, id rather be tackled by an american footballer with me not wearing any protection, then by another Rugby Prop, like myself. Because we hit like hell.
I'm a rugby player, and to be honest, it's much better than football (I may be biased but, oh well.) my point is that football relies heavily on mainly two people. In rugby, you need the full 15 to win.
American football is just that - American. If it had what it takes for broader appeal, it would be played everywhere.
American football, with its specialized players performing specialized tasks, is slow enough for people to follow the action easily, and simple enough for people to understand "what just happened" easily.
Do you think an American QB has the versatility to both defend and attack? When one does, folks act like it's the second coming, or when a defensive lineman recovers a fumble and scores? Look at what a rugger does and think of one player in American football who even comes close to that kind of athleticism and versatility!
Crap. rugby is not tougher than football and who wants to watch a bunch of men in a lot of confusion? if i want that i go to walmart. and in football it is more clean, yet still more hazardous. you can tell what just happened instead of waiting an hour for the referee to tell you so you can be more involved.
are the people up there kidding? American football is the slowest game ever, probably more so than curling. Rugby: now there's a man's game, a game to watch and definitely one to play. Take it from someone who doesn't know much about rugby and a lot about American football: rugby's much better.
Rugby is much better. It's way more rough! Rugby players don't need the protection, and rugby focuses more on working as a team rather than having one man for a touchdown. Different players have different purposes, all going toward make an amazing team. As far as popularity goes, well, Europe, Australia and Africa are a lot bigger than America. Point proven.
Rugby is great. The players don’t wear helmets or padding; they just beat the living daylights out of each other and then go for a beer. I love that.
Joe T. --American football player.
Anybody can play hard with helmet and pads. So football is lot easier than rugby. No wonder rugby players are tougher.
American Football is much more exciting than Rugby. Football players are much faster, stronger and bigger than Rugby players. People from Europe, South Africa and Australia don’t understand that with a helmet and pads, you hit much harder than without a helmet and pads.
American Football players would crush Rugby players. Johnny the (Bloke) from Great Britain would get smashed by a Demarcus Ware, Dwight Freeney, Marcus Stroud, Brian Urlacher Ray Lewis or any of them.
I saw the american movie invictus earlier today-just thought rugby was a little rougher because of the lack of helmets and pads.
Go football! Rugby sucks; it's like being brainwashed!
Rugby sucks. You ever watch football, you idiot?
i think football is way more violent and popular than that stupid rugby that people say is just like football.
Yeah, rugby also doesn't have 420 pound players and forward blocking means every player on the field is vulnerable and usually engaged on every play.
Diversity in size is significantly greater in American Football than in Rugby. Each player is like a chess piece and they all provide different ability. There are 5'6" players (Darren Sproles of the Chargers) and 6'6" players (Marcus Stroud of the Bills). Pads in football are there to provide dramatic hits and they do just that. Despite the employment of pads in American Football, there are more than enough injuries to go around. Some are season ending and some are career ending. Anyone who says rugby is more physically challenging than football has never played football and anyone who says it is stupid doesn't understand it.
Strategically, it requires a lot of finesse, intelligence, courage and quick decision-making and the coaching angle adds even more to it. Rugby deserves respect, but so does American Football. They're both great sports. They're different. Don't be so close-minded.
Rugby is way better than stupid american football.
American Football & Rugby are 2 different sports. Football is much more explosive. football has many skill players & very few people can touch the ball as in rugby every one can handle the ball. Football is a collision sport & rugby is a contact sport. The hitting in football is fierce, its a brutal game. Rugby is more passive
Rugby encompasses the hardest elements of football (i.e., American football) and soccer (i.e., football as it's known in most of the world) in one sport. It is physically more challenging than American football because the violent elements of football are present but the players don't wear helmets and pads.
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