OT: Rugby vs American Football

Submitted by MGoCooper on January 21st, 2012 at 12:35 PM

Having a lot of friends in England, I always get into a debate with them about rugby vs football. Their claim is that rugby is of course the sport with tougher men, because they don't play with pads. To which I always reply "Do you know why they use pads in Football? Because if they didn't, people would start dying! Would you enjoy being blindsided by Nadamukong Suh without pads(Which Sports Science proved had the impact of a 35 mph car crash)?" That argument always goes on for a while, and then we get into an even more heated debate about which sport has the better athletes. I've always, and will always say that American Football players are the greatest athletes on Earth. To piss them off further, I'd semi jokingly say "Give me a team of even College Football all stars, and give them 3 months to learn Rugby, and they could probably give the best Rugby team a hell of a game". Nothing would really piss them off more than that.

This point is always harder to prove to them, and the debate is endless and pointless. No disrespect to rugby players, they are indeed great athletes, and the game of rugby is difficult to play. But American Football, when it comes to size, speed, and overall athleticism, is un matched by any sport on the planet.



Crazy Canuck

January 21st, 2012 at 1:08 PM ^

the running backs would almost never have the ball. In rugby when you score the other team kick the ball back to you. Since a team of running backs would never win a line out and most probably never win a scrum. The would have the ball maybe 20% of the game. It is highly unlikely they would have much of a chance. Now a team of WR, RB, LB/DE hybrids and some power forwards from basketball would have a chance if they could get their endurance up.

Crazy Canuck

January 21st, 2012 at 6:12 PM ^

Most second row players in rugby are 6'6" or 6'7". When there's a line out the second row lift the jumper. The guys feet end up being 6' of the ground. Running backs aren't tall enough to lift a guy that high. You would need a pack of fullbacks to even come close in weight. So they would get pushed around in scrums. You have to remember the best players in the world have been playing since they've been 5 years old. They laterally pass the ball 30 yards. I played for eight years and can't do that.

swan flu

January 21st, 2012 at 12:40 PM ^

"greatest athletes" is like saying "greatest food." it's way too broad to ever have anything close to a clear answer.


Every sport is grueling in its own right.  And while I will concede that there are sports that probably require less athleticism (ie. golf), you can't compare the athleticism of football to the athleticism of ironman races... or free-solo rock climbing... or ice hockey... or wrestling... or rugby.

There is no answer.




January 21st, 2012 at 1:16 PM ^

Nah, we just think that because they stand around and the game seems slow.  There are elite ahtletes in every sport, and the skills required in one are not always translatable to the other.  I mean, people complain about the fat pitchers in baseball, yet we have 300lb+ linemen in the NFL who die at age 45 from health problems related to their weight gains. 

Happy Gilmore

January 21st, 2012 at 2:06 PM ^

But hockey players essentially do what football players do, on metal blades 2-3 mm thick. They also can get moving on the ice faster than people can run, so have the potential to hit just as/even harder than in football (especially blindside hits).

Lahey, where you at?


January 21st, 2012 at 2:25 PM ^

I'll absolutely back you on that one, being a hockey player myself. Not only is the game much faster than football or rugby (or any other team sport) but the agility required of an average NHL player is much, much more than an "average" guy on an NFL roster. On top of that, with college/NHL period length, the game lasts quite a bit longer than a football game, and thus requires endurance above and beyond football.

Obviously the NFL has athletes that would school some guys in the NHL and vice-versa, but in terms of overall toughness or athleticism on a team level, give me a good NHL team any day of the week.

One other thing, I don't think there are athletes in any team sport that compare to the Ironman competitors; those guys are on a whole other level.

swan flu

January 21st, 2012 at 12:51 PM ^

Put any american footballer in the ring with Anderson Silva (or Junior Dos Santos if youd prefer a larger person)... and they will die.  literally.  Put Anderson Silva on a football field and he will die.


your comparison is fatally flawed.


January 21st, 2012 at 1:12 PM ^

Football players have more speed, strength, or better hands. Rugby players are like a bit of everything. They are different kinds of athletes.


January 21st, 2012 at 12:45 PM ^

Ed Reed

Ray Rice

Troy Polamalu

Lamar Woodley

Darell Revis

Patrick Willis

Chris Johnson

Maurice Jones Drew

Calvin Johnson

Jimmy Graham

Brin Urlacher

Andre Johnson

Ray Lewis

Jason Pierre Paul

Darren McFadden


That team given the opportunity to learn rugby, would destroy teams.


January 21st, 2012 at 1:25 PM ^

But again, the skillset required for Rugby is different than American football, as is the desired bodytype.  For example, JPP would need to slim down quite a bit (I read that he is about 280, and that is probably a little low) to be able to run up and down the field in Rugby. 

My point is that every sport requires a different skillset and bodytype, and trying to compare one to the other is silly.  Yes, this team above you would be a very good rugby team given time, but I also think if you took an elite team of Rugby players and had them train to become football players, they'd be pretty good as well.


January 21st, 2012 at 12:52 PM ^

better rounded players with a good mix of power, endurance, and speed.  Football is all about min-maxxing to get players to play the best skill positions.

swan flu

January 21st, 2012 at 12:56 PM ^

Michael Jordan sucks at baseball

Tony Gonzalez got cut from the Heat (when the Heat were terrible)

Brock Lesner was terrible at football

Chad Ochocinco got cut from the MLS (before Ochocinco was terrible at football)


Athleticism is not some transcending physical characteristic that allows someone to be succesful at anything they want.


Waters Demos

January 21st, 2012 at 12:58 PM ^

I wouldn't slight rugby players.

In addition, the Brits have a hard time understanding why American football players stand around so much huddling, etc... (and I agree with them on this BTW).  In a 3 hour game, there's only about 11 minutes or so of live action in an american football game, which makes for about 2 hrs and 50 minutes of boring down time. 

Rugby is continuous - Suh (and many others) wouldn't be able to compete in that style of play. 

Waters Demos

January 21st, 2012 at 1:16 PM ^

Well, I disagree for reasons stated by swan flu below, among others.  I also agree that this is a dumb topic because these types of comparisons depend on largely unsupportable generalizations and transitive-property-style reasonings that have no explanatory power, or even correlative reality. 


January 21st, 2012 at 1:26 PM ^

You can argue athleticism among many sports, especially when both games are predicated on the same things. That's a ridiculous statement, it's like saying you can't argue who has better service, Delta, or American Airlines. The two sports are very different in and of itself, but when the means of how you accomplish success in them are the same athletically, then yes, a debate can be made. If there was no debate to be made, then sports science wouldn't bother comparing them, and books comparing the two wouldn't have been written.

And for this being stupid, don't respond then, since you're obviously so busy.

swan flu

January 21st, 2012 at 1:30 PM ^

Sports Science exists for the same reason all pop sciences exist: people think it's cool and they dont actually understand science.


Sports Science compared forces in 1 collision.  that is far from conclusive.  but it looks cool, so they televise it.

Waters Demos

January 21st, 2012 at 2:30 PM ^

But first, I'll note that I'm not sure what your ad hominem inquiry has to do with the comparison between football and rugby.  It doesn't seem relevant to me.

Notwithstanding that, my participation indicates to me that I'm enjoying my Saturday, don't have too much on my mind or my plate, and I'm allowing myself to engage in some unimportant matter as entertainment for a bit. 

Now, if you can persuasively relate that to football or rugby somehow, I will be impressed.

swan flu

January 21st, 2012 at 1:03 PM ^



To piggy back your idea: soccer is similar in that at least 8 players on each team are playing a full 95 minutes,  with that much aerobic activity the body is incapable of supporting as much muscle as american footballers have. Im not saying soccer players are better athletes than anyone... just that this topic is dumb.


January 21st, 2012 at 1:25 PM ^

It seems like in most of the extra-time games I've seen, the players are exhausted out of their minds, and play very defensively, hoping to survive to the penalty kicks.  Some fresh legs might help.

Greg McMurtry

January 21st, 2012 at 1:33 PM ^

You can watch as the O or D sets up or how a QB diagnoses the play. The QB can motion players or call audibles. The D can make shifts or fake blitzes and give different looks. When the O is in hurry-up mode, all of these things are done quickly and every second counts. None of this is boring to me. If these things are boring to you, then you simply aren't that much of a fan.


January 21st, 2012 at 1:16 PM ^

The rules of rugby allow players to not wear pads because the player is not "down" unless you wrap them up. This is why players do not NEED to lay out a defender although they often do. I played both sports in high school and found rugby to be a much bigger physical test because of the lack of stoppages. You simply cannot expect football players to go 80 minutes straight at their size. This explains why props and locks in rugby are linebacker size. A comparison really can't be made between the two--very different skill sets required. The "QB" in rugby--the fly half--needs to be able to pass, run, kick and make quick decisions. There aren't many parallel positions.

NOLA Wolverine

January 21st, 2012 at 1:20 PM ^

They're completely different sports and this argument is always stupid. Football pads are as much weapons as they are protection. But it's funny that you've come to the conclusion that football has the greatest athletes in the world bar none. Why don't you take a few steps back and define athleticism? Because I bet that a lot of boxers, UFC fighters, and wrestlers would have a bone to pick with your conclusion, among many other athletes.