Understanding the Core Differences Between Rugby and Football

rugby vs football

Rugby and football have more in common than you may think according to our Aussie guest writer (photo courtesy: Flickr)

This article is a guest contribution from Aussie freelancer Logan Grayson

Although to every American, and the rest of English-speaking world, the difference between football and rugby is as obvious as difference between night and day, to the rest of the humanity lines may be somewhat blurred.

In the end, to the foreigner’s soccer-centric eye it’s basically the same game – guys are running around, passing the ball and pounding each other to the ground, with the twist that Americans look bulkier. For all of them and for those who are willing to listen to the other side of the story –here are few major differences between these two great sports.

The Curious Case of Harpaston

Before dwelling into the differences, let’s start with the more reconcilable tone and point out that all the confusion considering football and rugby originates from the fact that both of these sports share common DNA, and an ancient one for that matter. Their origin reaches back to Ancient Greece and the game of ἁρπαστόν (harpaston), in which the goal was to move the ball to the opposite side of the field, whether by throwing it, running with it or by kicking it.

One of the more recent and more relevant links can be found in the 12th century England where football was very popular amongst nobility. The game, naturally, evolved through the centuries and once it passed the Atlantic and the Americans and British began to part ways, we ended up with football and rugby.

The Number of Players

One of the most obvious differences is the number of players on each side of the field. While football reduced that number to eleven, ever since the 1880’s, the number of rugby players ranges from fifteen (Rugby Union) to thirteen (Rugby League).

Still, in both sports we can find variations where the number of players is reduced to 8 and 7 respectively.

Style and the Object of the Match

The other very obvious difference is how the game plays out.

While football is more a game of patience and complex strategy, rugby allows for more fluidity and incorporates a lot of ball-exchange from basketball, running from soccer and finally, the body contact of football.

Like football, the object of the game is also to run with the ball to the opponent’s goal line or kick it through the goal post, but, opposed to football, in rugby the ball has to be placed on the ground for points to be scored.

In football, placing the ball on the ground, even in the end zone, is a no-no,  just ask Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant. 

The Most Important Scoring Rules

If a football player manages to carry the ball across the opponent’s goal line or catches it there, he has scored a touchdown and his team is rewarded with six points. The scoring team now has an opportunity to get an additional point by kicking the ball through the goal posts (conversion) or two points if the ball is again advanced to end zone through run or pass (two-point conversion).

In rugby, a touchdown is called a try and it’s worth five (Rugby Union) or four points (Rugby League) while the conversion is conveyed only though kicking and it carries two points.

Time Limit

A football game consists of four 15 minute quarters with a half-time intermission after the second one. Also, the game clock stops quite often between plays. In rugby, the game is played in two 40 minute halves with 10 minute half-time between them and the clock stops only for prolonged injuries.

While such rules allow rugby to be more dynamic, they also provide football with much time for implementation of more complex strategies.

Physical Demands

When it comes to stamina, strength, and what is expected from them on the field, the players deliver two completely different types of game.
In the Rugby League, stamina is a crucial factor. Although the game itself is much more physically demanding when compared to Football, and involves a lot of contact, it also requires endurance and a certain amount of quickness of thought combined.
On the other hand, the NFL is all about strength, speed, clever strategy, and stamina comes in second since there are so many resting points during the game. A terrifying fact about NFL players is that those direct contact impacts produce a tackling force of 1600 pounds. This is why, if you are following NFL rumors, you will often read about players getting carted off the field.

Number of Substitutions

The number of substitutions in football is unlimited, with wholesale changes occurring between plays as many players have specialized skill sets. Rugby allows up to 7 substitutions, thus forcing versatility, and the players who are out can’t be substituted back.

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Advancing the Ball

The way in which the ball is advanced differs drastically between these two sports.

While in both of them the majority of advancement is conveyed through running, in football players are allowed to pass the ball forward only if the passer is behind the point of the field where that particular play begun.

Rugby allows more ball exchange but only if the ball is passed sideways or backwards. It is also possible to kick the ball to a teammate or even to yourself in rugby, while ball-kicking in football usually results in opposing team gaining ball possession.

Field Size

Finally, it is worth mentioning that fields in both sports are rectangular and feature the goal posts and white lines marking certain parts, but they do differ in size. For example, a rugby field is somewhat longer (328.1 feet), opposed to football’s 300 feet, and much wider.

This should make things clear enough.

Both sports are great, both of them are fun and the question of which one you will follow largely depends of what play style you prefer and where you were born.

Football has one distinct advantage though, numerous breaks will always allow you to take a short walk to the fridge and grab some beer.

Author Bio:

Logan R. Grayson is stereotypical Aussie, but his interest in sports is global. His work  leaves him a bit of spare time, which he enjoys spending reading comics and walking his dog, Speck. You can also find him on Twitter,Google+ and Facebook.

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

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  1. steve case says

    The author missed the most important and relevant differences between the two games. They are fitness and finesse. One could not leave the the sidelines of American football and play an 80 min game that takes every fast twitch muscle as well as brutal endurance to task. in football every play comes with an oxygen break. in Rugby one try’s to find oxygen without letting his teammates down. In Rugby tackling is not an uncontrolled collision that ends with a whistle but a controlled thought of what to do in the next split second to gain an advantage. I could go on but I guess you were just trying to explain rules and not differences. Football was my passion until I found Rugby.

    • Good stuff Steve – I’m not the author of this post so I can’t agree or disagree, but I appreciate another perspective on the differences between Rugby and Football. – Brian