How is Rugby Different from American Football?

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How is Rugby Different from American Football? American football and rugby are in many ways similar sports, both featuring a great amount of physicality, running, and aggression.

This is not unsurprising when you realize that American football and rugby are related to American football developing from rugby in the 19th century. However, there are some fundamental differences between the games.

How is Rugby Different from American Football?

How is Rugby Different from American Football?

There are some fundamental differences between Rugby vs American football, let’s find out.

Geographic Spread

Although American football is played in many different countries across the world, by far most players are in the USA. Rugby however has a far bigger geographical spread. Rugby is popular in European countries such as England, Scotland, Ireland Wales, and France, as well as in southern hemisphere countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina. It is also one of the fast-growing team sports in the USA.

Object of the Game

The object of American football is to score more points than the opposition team by carrying the ball behind the opponent’s touchline (called a touchdown). Teams can also score points by kicking the ball between the posts which are known as a field goal.

The object of rugby is very similar, but the ball must be carried behind the opponent’s touchline and then placed down which is called a try. Points can also be scored by kicking the ball between the goalposts (known as a conversion/drop goal/penalty kick) depending upon the circumstances.


American footballs and rugby balls look similar at first glance but they are different. Rugby balls are about 27cm long and weigh about 1lb whereas American footballs weigh a few ounces less but are slightly longer at 28cm. American footballs also feature more pointy ends and a seam, both of which make it easier to throw.

Number of Players

Rugby teams are much larger than their American football counterparts. Rugby teams have fifteen players on the pitch at any one time whereas American football teams have just eleven.


In rugby, teams are allowed to make up to seven substitutions in a game (dependent upon specific league/tournament rules) and once a player has left the pitch, they cannot return to the field of play except if there is an injury and there are no other substitutes available. In American football, however, teams are allowed an unlimited number of substitutes.


American football fields are shorter than rugby pitches, having a total length of 109.73m compared to rugby’s 120m. Rugby pitches are much wider too at 70m compared to 48.77m in American football.

Protective Equipment

Rugby players play with minimal of protective equipment, most playing only with a gum shield. In American football, however, a large amount of equipment is worn including a helmet, shoulder and chest pads, leg protectors, in addition to a gum shield. These are not optional and must be worn by all players.

Physical Contact

Both American football and rugby are games that feature a huge amount of physical contact and are physically demanding to play. Impacts in American football can often be heavier thanks to the amount of protective equipment worn.

However, rugby players make many more tackles than their American counterparts, averaging sixteen per game compared to American football’s average of just four.

Conclusion – How is Rugby Different from American Football?

Generally speaking, 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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