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.




January 21st, 2012 at 1:24 PM ^

These arguments are never about sports.  They are always about politics.  "Our national sport is better than yours!"

So you have many Americans who have no problem enthusiastically watching Football, then Basketball, then Baseball - all very different sports - freak out about Soccer.  Because it's un-American.

Likewise many Brits who follow Soccer, Rugby, and Cricket, are bewildered how anyone could watch American Football.  Because it's not "their" sport.


Waters Demos

January 21st, 2012 at 1:28 PM ^

I agree.

American attitudes towards soccer make no sense to me.  The "main" American sports generally tend to emphasize the importance of footwork, which IMHE is developed in soccer far more than any other sport. 

I remember during the WC last summer a series of major American sport athletes crediting soccer with their success in their non-soccer sports because of the footwork.


January 21st, 2012 at 1:29 PM ^

I played rugby, I also played football. Not an any high level of course, but I was always more challenged by Football. In terms of this being a nationalist argument, I agree to a certain extent. I would only add, that having talked to people who have played both, Football seems to always be more of a challenge for them.


January 21st, 2012 at 2:02 PM ^

I played both, and like most members of my Rugby team, thought Rugby was more challenging and physically demanding. You have to constantly be ready to switch between various skill sets (passing, catching, kicking, running, tackling) at a moments notice, and you don't have 40 seconds to map out your plans after each play.



January 21st, 2012 at 3:10 PM ^

Agree, I also played both.  I did think that rugby was more challenging to play and I think more fun as well (I played flank so I was always around the action)... but I still think football is a MUCH better spectator sport.

Wisconsin Wolverine

January 21st, 2012 at 1:39 PM ^

I'll pitch in my 2 cents, just because I've played a decent amount of rugby (union) in Australia & spent the rest of my life watching football in America ... the two sports involve running & tackling, but are pretty different besides that.

Firstly, the philosophy of rugby is just different.  Football is truly a game of inches, & rugby is a game of team momentum, flow, & opportunity.  Football players hit with the intent to stop you in your tracks, & rugby players simply need to bring you down.  Also in rugby, the only players doing the colliding are the ball carrier & the opposing players directly in front of him, so he is very rarely taken by surprise.  So what you see is a lot more wrapping up in rugby, & the tacklers will often match their momentum more to the runner to get a good lock on him, rather than oppose it diametrically.

The end result here is far more superficial injuries like cuts, scrapes, & blood in rugby.  However, there are less of the crushing-type injuries we see so much of from the brutal hits of football.

I'm sure you've all noticed that football players can look very different from one another based on what position they play ... Obviously this is because the line relies on size, receivers on speed & jumping ability, backs on strength & agility, etc.  This is a little bit less true in rugby union, even though there are positional differences, & even less true in rugby league (another popular version in Australia).  In rarer forms of the game (like sevens, where they play seven to a side), the players really start to become homogenous in build, because they all need to be balanced between speed, endurance, & strength. 

So let's touch on that for a moment - football players are simply more explosive because they give 100% for a few seconds, then take a break.  Rugby players are active for long stretches of time ... although they may be simply jogging around for much of that time, making consecutive tackles is really tiring (and in fact underlies some offensive strategies in rugby league, where the offense tries to run straight at the same few defenders repeatedly to wear them down).  Even playing touch rugby, I got pretty winded just by jogging backwards each time the ball was reset.

So in conclusion, as far as which is the tougher game, I think it's just a matter of preference.  As far as the athletes themselves: If you're looking for superlatives - like the biggest, fastest, strongest - you're going to find them in football, but each one at the expense of the others.  Rugby players tend to be more balanced in their traits.

Ok I've already written too much, so I will stop here.  Both games are really fun!


January 21st, 2012 at 2:51 PM ^

Rugby players are, in my opinion, better overall atheletes. Everyone can run and hit and do it for long periods with no breaks. In football, you have guys who are stronger or faster but not often both and lack endurance.


January 21st, 2012 at 3:18 PM ^

I played 11 years of tackle football, 5 at D-1 level and 23 years of Rugby. The skills are transferable from football to rugby so long as one bridges the fitness demands required by Rugby. Also, the U.S. Eagles are nowhere near the top tier rugby teams. I think you could train the UM football team for 6 months and they would be competitive with the Eagles , but they would be smashed by top tier national sides.


January 21st, 2012 at 3:47 PM ^



I married a kiwi and over the past 6 or 7 years have gotten to know rugby well and often thought about comparisons.  NFL football is far more violent, rugby has rules inplace for high hits, hard hits and hits where you lift a players legs off the ground.  I don't think I would want to be in a scrum or a ruck and those appear to be pretty much unregulated and a free for all.  Regarding the players and if NFL players would dominate, I simply have to assume they would.  The New Zealand 100M record is in the low 10 second range, but the fastest yearly time recorded is usually not that fast and not even competitive at a national level highschool meet in the US.  So I assume the US players would be much faster, I also think that some of the taller players from the US would be asignificant upgrade over those in Rugby.  At the end of the day the US typically produces the best athletes in the world and I really question how athletic the players are from NZ, SA, AUS and ENG are.  Aside from Australia they are simply not competitive with US athletes.  They are both great games although my wife calls US football players, rugby players in costumes.  She can't stand the constant stop and go and has never been able to adapt to the slow pace.  Which this years bowl season  took it to a whole new level and was more of a commercial with football intermingled that a football game and I almost found it intolerable, but that is a seperate conversation.


January 21st, 2012 at 3:56 PM ^

Trying not to get invisibleized here but...

American Football is a far better sport than rugby (let alone soccer) so if that's the argument you win.

Now, Rugy may be more challenging physically than football I would have no idea but... that's neither here nor there.  If that's their argument let them have that point.

If they are saying the Baltimore Ravens wouldn't destroy any rugby team on the planet with equal exposure to the sport... just laugh and shake your head and go back to sipping your beverage.


January 21st, 2012 at 4:32 PM ^

This is like arguing which version of The Office is better. UK or USA? Can't we all just have our own preferences?

Nah, that'd be no fun and we must debate since we are on the interwebs.


Roy G. Biv

January 21st, 2012 at 5:26 PM ^

     As someone who's played rugby since '95, I enjoy the topic.  There are a lot of contrasts/comparisons to be made.  In my opinion, footballl is definitely a more violent sport, but rugby is more physically demanding.  With the armor and type of tackling allowed in football, the collisions are more violent with more frequency.  With rugby, high tackles above the shoulders are not permitted and an attempt to wrap up the ballcarrier must be made.  No flying shoulder hits and diving in to a players knees.  The tackler would be penalized.

     As far as being physically demanding, rugby demands 40 minutes per half without downs or huddles.  The scrumhalf (think roughly as QB equivalent) not only has to make passes and decisions from the base of the scrum, but he also has to defend, tackle, field kicks, etc.  Picture Matt Stafford or Joe Flacco doing the same (although guys like Elway, Young, Cunningham, et al could have excelled at rugby as well).  Tackling/being tackled, getting up, chasing down play, repeat, is exhausting.  That goes for packies (big guys) and backs alike.

     Which one someone prefers is largely a function of where they're from.  Particularly from a spectator point of view, nothing IMO beats a U-M football Saturday.  But if I'm playing, nothing beats a rugby Saturday and one of the best parts of the game, the 3rd half.   

swan flu

January 21st, 2012 at 6:50 PM ^

since we are talking about athleticism... I arbitrarily choose to define athleticism as a combination of speed, reflexes, strength, and coordination.

therefore the best athlete in the world is none other than:

edit: embed fail.


 ...okay this was a shameless reason to post a video of Leo Mesisi.


January 21st, 2012 at 9:14 PM ^

Saw a fair share of rugby when on vacation in NZ / Australia. Was slightly intrigued, but I've been indoctrinated in football as long as I've been following it. Football is better 


January 21st, 2012 at 11:24 PM ^

Rugby players, when under duress, simplyl lateral the ball to a player and eliminates all chances of getting hit from oncoming defender. If hit is made, player is penalized. If Stehphen Jackson, or Hell, Ray Rice for that matter were to run over an unpadded rugby player, game over. simple. no argument to contrarty.


January 22nd, 2012 at 1:52 AM ^

My son and I play both.  Rugby never stops for breathers (i.e. "plays") so especially the forwards never stop playing, pushing, running, tackling for 40 min. halfs (backline players get a little standing around time).  Rugby rules help a little in avoiding injury, I felt me at 145lb and 52yr old, could survive better in rugby (college b side) than men's full contact flag football (full contact downfield blocking...).  No need to stop people from getting a first down, just slow them down or let them fall over you.... No blocking allowed at all (got a dislocated shoulder from kickoff return in flag...) . As a wing I wouldn't normally get flattened after receiving a lateral (but there are "hospital passes"...) but at same time I could easily get flattened after catching an opposing teams kick (no forward passes). I know wide receivers and corners need to run run run, but on a rugby team everyone has to run, like all the time. My bet is rugby players have better aerobic conditioning. As to strength I'm sure football linemen have to be strong (my son is 140lb fullback but can push back 250lb liinemen) but so do scrum forwards.  I think my son and I have more chance to be injured in american football but almost for sure are in better condition, strength, speed, and aerobic , by playing rugby. I will say I like watching football more than rugby (like chess), but like playing rugby more than football (moment to moment thrill. free flowing violence. unpredictable). I hope my son gives up football after HS but continues with rugby.