The American Football vs The Rugby League

American Football vs. Rugby
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When it comes to sports that involve intense physical play, American football and Rugby are two names that often come to mind. While both share some similarities, they also have distinct differences that set them apart.


The Origin of Rugby and Football American football is said to have developed from rugby. The British colonists from Canada brought rugby to the Americans. At that time the two were not as differentiated as they are now.

The origin of rugby in England goes back long into the 19th century or even earlier. In 11800, formalities were introduced to football rules in the seven major public schools in England. 

Handling of the ball was permitted in football in the early 1800s when players were allowed to take a mark and then a free kick. The Rugby Football Union was formed in 1871 by the representatives of 21 clubs. All of which were in southern England and most of them were within London. 

In the early 1890s, rugby was widespread, and over half of the RFU’s clubs were in northern England. The working classes of the north of England and South Wales were taken with rugby over football (soccer).

The captivating sport of American football, with its strategic plays, bone-crushing tackles, and exhilarating touchdowns, boasts a lineage intertwined with its British cousin, rugby. This journey from a rudimentary game to a global phenomenon is a fascinating story of evolution and adaptation.

The origins of both rugby and American football can be traced back to a chaotic and loosely defined sport known simply as “football” in medieval England.

 As early as the 12th century, references to a game involving a ball and a large number of participants emerged. These early iterations lacked standardized rules, with variations in kicking, carrying, and tackling prevalent across different regions.

Formalizing the Game: The Rise of Rugby

The 19th century witnessed the birth of formalized rules for the game. In 1823, a pivotal moment occurred at Rugby School when William Webb Ellis, according to legend, picked up the ball and ran with it towards the opponent’s goal, a clear deviation from the traditional kicking-based game. 

While the veracity of this specific event remains debated, it symbolizes the emergence of a new style of play that would eventually become rugby.

The codification of rugby rules continued throughout the century. The formation of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in 1871 marked a significant milestone. 

Though initially representing clubs primarily in Southern England, the RFU established a set of standardized rules that emphasized running with the ball and scrummaging, laying the foundation for modern rugby.

Across the Atlantic: American Football Emerges

Meanwhile, British colonists brought various forms of football to North America. In the United States, a hybrid sport emerged, incorporating elements of both rugby and the association football (soccer) that was gaining popularity in Europe. 

This early American football resembled a chaotic tug-of-war with the ball, with minimal rules and a focus on brute strength.

The turning point for American football came in the late 19th century. In 1876, Walter Camp, a prominent figure in American athletics, introduced several key changes that would differentiate American football from its rugby roots. 

These included establishing a line of scrimmage, replacing scrums with a more controlled snap, and introducing the concept of “downs” to limit possession. 

These changes aimed to create a more strategic and controlled game, minimizing the chaotic free-for-alls that characterized earlier versions.

The 20th Century: Refinement and Global Expansion

Throughout the 20th century, American football continued to evolve. The forward pass was legalized in 1906, introducing a new dimension of strategy and passing offense. 

The formation of the National Football League (NFL) in 1920 further solidified the sport’s professional structure and national appeal.

While American football flourished in the US, its influence began to spread globally. Leagues and federations started appearing in other countries, adapting the core principles of the game to their cultural contexts. 

Today, American football boasts a dedicated international following, with international competitions held across the globe.

The story of American football’s evolution from the muddy fields of medieval England to the bright lights of modern stadiums is a testament to human ingenuity and the power of adaptation. 

From the chaotic roots of early football to the strategic complexities of today’s game, American football serves as a reminder of how sports can evolve and captivate audiences worldwide.

 With its emphasis on athleticism, strategy, and teamwork, American football continues to inspire generations of players and fans, solidifying its place as a global sporting phenomenon.

The Differences and Similarities of American Football and Rugby League 

American Football

American Football has 11 players per team on the field at any point in time. The team consists of 11 players on the field simultaneously, with unlimited substitutions.

Each team gets three time-outs per half. Play begins with a kickoff. Two teams line up opposite each other, usually lining up a “play from scrimmage.”

The receiving player may run with the all or may pass it. Each team moves the ball at least 10 yards within 4 downs. If they fail to do so, the other team gets the chance.

If they succeed, they will get 4 new tries to move the ball 10 yards further. The main motive is to score points by advancing the ball into the opponent’s team end-zone.

Rugby League

The rugby team is made up of 15 players which is divided into forwards and backs. Forwards are larger and stronger players of the team having their main object to win the possession of the ball. The backs are smaller, faster, and more agile and exploit the ball possessions. 

The match begins with kickoff and the teams compete for possession of the ball. The player of the receiving team runs with the ball, kicks it, or passes it to any other player laterally or behind him.  The opponent players can tackle the ball carrier at any time. 

Apart from tackles, scrummages, rucks, mauls, and lineouts, no other contact is allowed. Dangerous tackles are not permitted and are punished severely. Once tackled, the player must release the ball immediately so that play may continue. 

If a team crosses the opposing team’s goal line and touches the ball to the ground, a try is scored (five points). After each try, the scoring team will have the opportunity to score two more points with a conversion.

Comparison Chart

American FootballRugby League
Number of players11 players per team on the field at any point in time.The team consists of 15 pl for the Union
The object of the gameThe object of the game is to score points by carrying the ball beyond the opponent’s touchline with a series of run-and-pass plays. This is called a touchdown (6 pts). Kicking it between the goalposts is called a Field Goal (3pts), or a 1pt conversion right after a TD.The object of the game is to carry the ball and place the ball down on the opponent’s touchline(called a Try) or kick it betrayal l postal posts
Time limitIt has four 15-minute quarters, with a half-time intermission after the second quarter. The game time stops frequently between plays.Two 40-minute halves with a ten-minute half-time. The clock only stops for prolonged injuries.
A prolate spheroid which is about 11 inches (28 cm) long and about 22 inches (56 cm) in circumference at the center weighs around 0.875 lbs.A prolate spheroid-shaped football. The international size is called the “size 5” and it is approximately 27 cm long 60 cm in circumference at its widest point and weighs 1lb.

Major LeagueThe National Football League (NFL)Major comps include”(domestic) super 15, Aviva prem, RFU, top 14, Nat League1 & 2, rugby pro d2, ITM cup, Currie cup, rebo pro d12, super 10, shut shield, NSW suburban rugby(+more) (Internation) RWC, four nat, six nat, pacific nat, aAsian5 nat(+more)


What is it?

American football is a game with intense physical aggression with players that have speed, power, and explosiveness that require helmets and padding to be worn.Rugby is a game with intense physical aggression and necessary endurance that only requires a mouthguard for play. Some possessions require speed and agility while others require strength.
USA, CanadaWorldwideWorldwide
Current World Champions

Tampa Bay BuccaneersNew Zealand All Blacks (Rugby Union World Cup)
Number of Umpires / Referees
3 to 6 referees plus booth review4 referees including TMO (television match official) who declare valid or invalid via cameras for tries that aren’t visited for the ref or caused after an illegal infringement and 2 assistant referees.
Player Size

The NFL player Brandon Banks is 70 kg. (155 lbs.) was at one point 67 kg. The lightest NFL player since 2010 is (149 lbs.) while 162.3 kg (358 lbs.) Brandon Jacobs is the largest running back 122kg (268 lbs.).The lightest player of international rugby was Gordon McGhie at just 58kg. While the largest rugby international bill is cacaveat165.3kg) his heaviest at 201.7kg (442.5 lbs).
Protective gear

A helmet, Shoulder/Chest pad/protector, upper leg padding, and mouthguard are rightfully required.Players are only allowed modest padding on the Head, Shoulders, Collarbone, etc. Only a mouthguard is required.
Field Length: 

120 yards (109.728 meters) in total (100 yards (91.44 meters) of playing field, with two 10-yard (9.144 meters) end zones) Width: 160 feet (48.768 meters)100 (120m if end zone “goal area” is included) meters long by 70 meters wide with 20 meters in try area.



Unlimited7 substitutions are allowed (depending on the tournament rules) Once pulled out cannot be substituted again unless there is an injury and no other substitutes.
Major Tournaments

NFL PlayoffsRugby World Cup
Average contact per game
The Average tackles per game/ player: 4 with the highest recorded at 4600lbs. (by sports science), consistent contact away from the ball with downfield blocking with contact as severe as a tackle.

The Average tackles per game/player: 16 
Average hit impact: 1600lbs. recorded from members of the LA rugby team by sports science)

Playing Field

American football is played on a rectangular field, while rugby fields are similar with some variations.

Contact Sport

Rugby allows all players to handle the ball, unlike American football where certain restrictions apply.

Protective Equipment

American football involves hard protective gear, while rugby relies on minimal protection.

Schedule and Cost

Rugby provides a more flexible schedule and is less costly than professional football.


In rugby, players focus on retaining ball possession, while American football emphasizes gaining yardage.


In American football, the player carries the ball to cause the ball to enter the end zone (in-goal area) while still in bounds, by carrying it in or holding the ball in or by the imaginary plane of the goal line. 

In Rugby league, the ball is to be pressed to the ground in the in-goal area. Here football, the ball touchdown scores 6 points while in Rugby league the try is now worth 4 points. In rugby union, a try is worth 5 points, and also the conversion is worth 2.


American football relies on set moves and counter moves, while rugby is more free-flowing and spontaneous.

Geographical Differences

American football is played in North America, while Rugby has a global presence.


American football and rugby, though sharing some common ground, offer unique experiences for players and fans alike.

The two were born from the same primordial “football,” haveand blossomed into distinct yet captivating sports. American football enthralls with its strategic chess match on the field, demanding calculated plays and precision execution.

 Rugby, on the other hand, pulsates with free-flowing energy, where agility and improvisation reign supreme. Both, however, celebrate the pinnacle of athleticism, tactical thinking, and the unwavering power of teamwork. 

FAQs on American Football and Rugby League

1. Is rugby the same as American football?

  • No, the playing rules differ significantly between the two sports.

2. Which is tougher, rugby, or American football?

  • They are both physically demanding, but rugby is often considered tougher and more challenging.
  • Rugby has not received the same level of investment and promotion, making it relatively niche compared to popular sports.