American Football And Rugby: Comparing The Two Sports In Terms Of Rules, Popularity, Acceptance, And More!

6 Min Read
Image Credit : pixabay

American Football and Rugby are very similar in a lot of ways. Both are energy-demanding, fun-filled, and aggressive field sports. Players have to take the oblong ball from one post to another using their hands to earn scores. They either throw or kick the ball past the goalposts.

While there are some notable similarities, there are also differences between both sports – in areas such as the field and equipment, number of players, the game-plays, and how the players advance the ball through the field.

If you only play table games, you may have to learn about field games if you want to expand your horizon. This article has outlined every significant difference between the two sports. Let’s get to it.

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What Is Rugby?

Rugby is a sport where 15 players of two teams (or 15-a-side) each pass, kick or carry an oval ball from hand to hand. It’s a combination of basketball’s transitioning, American football’s contacts, and the running of soccer on a large rectangular field.

Any team member that successfully takes the ball through the opponent’s goal post has scored a goal for his team.

What Is American Football?

American football is an 11-a-side sport where two teams use complex strategies to pass a ball past each other’s goalposts to earn points.

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Otherwise known as ‘football,’ American football originated from the Rugby Union in the 19th century. Although football evolved from rugby, it has advanced into an entirely different sport from its predecessor.

Differences Between American Football And Rugby

Here are some differences between rugby and American football:

  1. Origin

Rugby originated in England in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Football rules then had formalities in seven leading public schools in England in the 1800s.

In the early 1800s, players could handle the ball, make a mark, and have a free-kick. After that, the Rugby Football Union was established in 1871 by executives of 21 teams in the Southern part of England, especially in London. Over the next twenty years, the Rugby Football Union grew, and more than half of RFU teams were located in northern England.

American football, on the other hand, emerged from rugby. Initially, there weren’t many differences between both sports, but as time evolved, so did their distinctions.

  1. Popularity

Rugby Union is remarkable, more popular than American Football. It ranks 9th most popular sport worldwide with over 405 million fans globally, while American football ranks 10th with circa 400 million fans over the globe.

Furthermore, there are over 10 million rugby players worldwide, whereas there are about 2 million American footballers worldwide.

  1. Ball

Both rugby and American football balls appear quite similar but have their distinctions. American football balls weigh some ounces less than rugby’s but are at 28cm, while rugby balls are 27cm long and weigh 1lb.

American Football And Rugby
Image Credit : pixabay

In addition, American football balls incorporate pointy ends and have a seam. It makes it much easier to throw the ball.

4. Substitutions

American football doesn’t limit the number of substitutes teams can accept in a game. Whereas, in rugby, each team has a limit of seven substitutions per game, depending on the tournament/league rules.

Also, in rugby, players who leave the playing field are not permitted to return to the game except in cases of injuries, and there’s no other substitute available.

5. Number of Players

In American football, each team has a maximum of eleven players on the field. But, in rugby, the story is a lot more different. Each team is permitted 15 field players at a time.

It’s also worth noting that the number of players on a rugby field depends on the game. Two types of Rugby Union games are played – the normal match, which requires fifteen players, and the rugby tournament/league, which requires thirteen players.

6. Physical Contact

Regarding physical contact, rugby and American football games require a huge demand for aggressive, energetic, and physically-demanding activities while playing. Physical contact for American football tends to have a higher impact, given the protective gear players wear.

Rugby requires players to make a larger amount of tackles than football. The average number of tackles in each rugby game is about sixteen, and about four for American football.

7. Field Size

Rugby pitches are a lot larger than those belonging to American football teams. While rugby has a standard of 120m long pitches, American football has 109.73m standard lengths.

Also, the breadth of the rugby field is bigger than that of American football. Rugby has a standard of 70m wide fields, while American football has 48.77m.


American Football and rugby stem from the same sport and have very similar features. Moreover, there are also some notable differences between them. These differences include balls, popularity, field size, physical contact, and more.

Ankit is a driven content writer renowned for his meticulous attention to detail and captivating storytelling prowess. He is an avid cricket enthusiast, finding profound joy in the intricacies of the sport. Through his keen observation and deep appreciation for cricket, Vishesh seeks to infuse his writing with the same level of precision.