How is American Football Different From Rugby?

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How is American Football Different From Rugby? The significant differences between the two are the playing rules. In rugby, there are 15 players on a team, while American football has 11 players on a side. The roster of American football players seems endless, as they can sub in and out at any time. During rugby matches, a 23-player squad is used.

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How is American football different from Rugby?

How is American Football Different From Rugby?

American: How many American players are on each team? Each team has 11 players on the field at one time, with unlimited substitutions. Each team gets three time-outs per half. The play begins with a kickoff. Two teams line up opposite each other; they are usually lining up a “play from scrimmage.” Receiving player may run with the ball or may pass it. Each team has to move 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 get 4 new tries to move the ball 10 yards further. The main objective is to score points by advancing the pointed oval-shaped ball into the opponent’s team end-zone.

Rugby: A Rugby team consists of 15 players, divided into forwards and backs. Forwards are often larger and stronger players of the team having their main job to win the possession of the ball. The backs are usually smaller, faster, and more agile and exploit the ball possessions. The match begins with a kickoff and the teams compete for possession. The player of the receiving team may run with the ball, or kick it, or pass it to any other player laterally or behind him. An opponent player may tackle the ball carrier at any time. Other than tackles, scrummages, rucks, mauls, and lineouts, no other contact is allowed. Even dangerous tackles are not permitted and are penalized severely. Once tackled, the player must release the ball immediately so play may continue. Once a team has crossed the opposing team’s goal line and touched the ball to the ground, a try is scored (five points). After each try, the scoring team has the opportunity to score two more points with a conversion.

Origin of rugby and football

American football is said to have developed from rugby. British colonists from Canada are said to have brought rugby to the Americans. At that time the two were not as differentiated as now.

The origin of rugby in England goes back long into the 19th century and even earlier. In the 1800s formalities were introduced to football rules in the seven major public schools of England. Handling 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 had been formed in 1871 by representatives of 21 clubs – all of which were located in southern England and most were within London. By the early 1890s rugby was widespread and well over half the RFU’s clubs were in northern England. The working classes of the north of England and South Wales were particularly taken with rugby over football (soccer).

Playing Field

American football field is played on a rectangular field 120 yards (110 meters) long by 53 1/3 yards (49 meters) wide. Near each end of the field is a goal line; they are 100 yards apart. A rugby league field is very similar, it is 120 metres long and about half that in width, and there is a line across the field every ten meters.

Contact Sport

The most significant differences between American and Rugby football are that in Rugby all players are allowed to handle the ball and any sort of blocking, forward passing, and time-outs are not allowed. Unlike American football, in the case of Rugby, any kind of screening and obstruction to players who do not have the ball is not allowed. This is the main reason why Rugby is much safer than American football. Unlike American football, only lateral passes are legal, and running and kicking can advance the ball. In American Football, one forward pass per down is permitted, so long as it originates behind the line of scrimmage.

Protective Equipment in rugby and football

In Rugby, there is a lack of hard protective equipment such as helmets and padding. That’s why in the case of Rugby players are also taught to tackle with personal safety in mind. In football, hard tackles are allowed which is why there is padding.

Schedule and Cost

Rugby provides for a more flexible schedule and less costly athletic team than professional football, hockey, or other options.


In the case of Rugby, players are concerned more about retaining ball possession rather than gaining yardage as in the case of American football.


A touchdown is the American football equivalent of a rugby league try. Ironically, a try requires the ball to be ‘touched down’ to the ground, whereas a touchdown doesn’t. In American football, it is sufficient for the player carrying 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 through the imaginary plane of the goal line. In rugby league, the ball must be pressed to the ground in the in-goal area. An American football touchdown scores 6 points and a rugby league try is now worth 4 points. In rugby union, a try is worth 5 points, and the conversion is worth 2.

Football vs Rugby Strategy

American football is a game of set moves and counter moves (similar to chess). On the other hand, Rugby is a more free-flowing spontaneous game.

Geographical differences

As the name suggests, American football is played in North America while rugby is played across the globe with prominence in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and parts of Europe.


That’s all about how is American football different from rugby. American football and rugby are two similar sports, but with rather different rules of play. The playing field in both sports looks the same but has different dimensions. Both fields have a rectangular shape, soccer goals at opposite ends, and white lines drawn on certain areas of the field.

That’s some obvious differences between the two sports. For more articles about this topic, follow us at Football Terms!

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