Football and rugby are sports that many people find confusing. A person from a rugby playing background may be perplexed by football and similarly, someone who has grown up playing football may be baffled by what’s happening in rugby.
While the two sports contain many similarities, they also have some crucial differences.
A noticeable major difference between football and rugby is the number of players on the field. In football there are always eleven players on the field at one time, but in rugby there are always thirteen players on the field at a time (except in some versions of rugby which use fifteen players).
The roles expected of the players are also quite different. In football different players come on the field when possessions switch. Some players are designated offensive players and some players are designated defensive players. There are also players that come on the field during transitions, when the ball is kicked or punted, called “special teams” players. In contrast, in rugby the same players stay on the field for both offensive and defensive play. In rugby there are only limited substitutions allowed. The balls that are used in rugby and football respectively also have some major differences.
The balls in both sports are both close to eleven inches long and oblong in shape, but football balls are pointed at the ends and rugby balls are a little bigger in the middle.
Playing the Game
One of the most noticeable differences between football and rugby when game play begins is movement of the ball. Whereas in football the quarterback may throw the ball forward to any player, in rugby the ball may only be pitched backwards. Once a player receives a hand-off or a pitch in rugby they may run forward with the ball, but the ball must start out moving backwards. Another major difference is that in rugby anyone on the team may kick the ball at any time whereas in football only the designated kicker or punter may kick the ball. Also in football after a kick the other team must touch the ball (except in the special exception of an onside kick) but in rugby a player may kick the ball and then the same player may run and get it.
The length of the game is also different in football and rugby. Football games are made up of four fifteen minutes quarters and rugby games are made up of two forty minute halves, making rugby games twenty minutes longer than football games. The time that it actually takes to play or watch a game is very comparable because of the increased stoppage time in football. Because of stoppages for substitutions, or for breaks between quarters, there is a lot more time taken up when players are not actually playing whereas rugby tends to be more continuous play. Also in football the clock stops for a first down, or a caught pass or a possession change.
Ending the Game
One last aspect of the game that is quite different in football and rugby is the scoring. In rugby when the ball is touched down in the opposing team’s in-goal area a try is scored and it is worth five points. The team is then given the chance to kick the ball through the goal posts for an extra two points. In football a score occurs when the team gets the ball into their own end zone and it is worth six points and they are given the chance to kick the ball through the goal posts for an extra point, or to complete a pass or run player for an extra two points. In both sports teams can score by kicking it through the goal posts at other times, in football when attempting field goals and in rugby when attempting penalty kicks or drop goals, and in all instances this is worth three points.
Enjoying Rugby and Football
While the differences make rugby and football two very different games, fans can learn to appreciate both sports for what they are. Understanding the rules and the differences will make both sports more enjoyable for fans to watch or to play.
Emily Feldhake is a native of Michigan. She is an avid sports fan and has spent time living and working in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Among the companies she writes for is MyAAEWorld, an online store specializing in sports equipment.