American football is a game played between two teams and consists of 11 players in each of the two teams, with unlimited substitutions. American football is a game of intense physical play with complex strategy to score points by advancing the ball to the opponent team’s end-zone.

Rugby is best described as a blend of the contact of American football, the running of soccer, and the transition of basketball. It is a game played between two teams with 15 players in each, played on a rectangular field, with the object being to run with an oval ball across the opponent’s goal line or kick it through the upper portion of the goal posts.

Both the games differ in a variety of parameters.

Comparison chart

American Football versus Rugby comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartAmerican FootballRugby
  • current rating is 3.52/5
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  • current rating is 3.96/5
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(1996 ratings)
Number of players 11 players per team on the field at any point of time Team consists of 15 players for Union
Object of the Game To score points by carrying the ball beyond the opponents touch line with a series of run and pass plays. This is called a touch down (6pts). Kicking it between the goal post is called a Field Goal (3pts), or a 1pt conversion right after a TD. Object of the game is to carry the ball and place the ball down on the opponents touch line (called a Try) or kick it between the goal posts.
Time limit Four 15-minute quarters, with a half-time intermission after the second quarter. The game clock stops frequently between plays. Two 40 minute halves with a ten minute half time. Clock only stops for prolonged injuries.
Ball A prolate spheroid which is about 11 inches (28 cm) long and about 22 inches (56 cm) in circumference at the center and weighs around 0.875lbs. A prolate spheroid shaped football. The accepted international size is called the "size 5" and is approximately 27 cm long and 60 cm in circumference at its widest point and weighs around 1lb.
Major League National Football League (NFL) Major comps include"(domestic) super 15, Aviva prem, RFU, top 14, Nat league 1 & 2, rugby pro d2, ITM cup, currie cup, rebo pro d12, super 10, shut shield, NSW suburb rugby(+more) (internation) RWC, four nat, six nat, pacific nat, asian 5 nat(+more)
What is it? American football is a game with intense physical aggression with players that have speed, power, and explosiveness that requires helmets and padding to be worn. Rugby is a game with intense physical aggression and necessary endurance that only requires a mouth guard for play. Certain possessions require speed and agility, others require strength.
Countries USA, Canada Worldwide
Current World Champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers New Zealand All Blacks (Rugby Union World Cup)
Number of Umpires / Referees 3 to 6 referees plus booth review 4 referees including TMO (television match official) who declares tries valid or invalid via cameras for tries which aren't visible for the ref or caused after an illegal infringement and 2 assistant referees.
Player Size NFL player brandon banks 70 kg. (155 lbs.) was at one point 67 kg. (149 lbs.) is the lightest NFL player since 2010 while the largest NFL player was 162.3kg (358 lbs.) The largest running back is 122kg (268 lbs.) Brandon jacobs. The lightest rugby player to ever play international rugby was Gordon McGhie at just 58kg. largest rugby international bill cavubati (165.3kg) his heaviest at 201.7kg (442.5lbs).
Protective gear Helmet, Shoulder/Chest pad/protector, upper leg padding and mouthguard are rightfully required. Players are only allowed modest padding on Head, Shoulders, Collarbone etc. Only a mouthguard is required.
Major Tournaments NFL Playoffs Rugby World Cup
Substitution Unlimited Up to 7 substitutions allowed (depending on the tournament rules) Once pulled out cannot be substituted back in unless there is an injury and no other substitutes.
Average contact per game Average tackles per game per player: 4 with highest recorded at 4600lbs (by sports science), consistent contact away from the ball with downfield blocking with contact as severe as a tackle. Average tackles per game per player: 16 - Average hit impact: 1600lbs. of force (recorded from members of the LA rugby team by sports science)
Field Length: 120 yards (109.728 meters) in total (100 yards (91.44 meters) of playing field, with two 10-yard (9.144 meters) end zones) Width: 160 feet (48.768 meters) 100 (120m if end zone "goal area" is included) meters long by 70 meters wide with 20-meter in try area.

Differences in rules of Rugby and American Football

American football: Each team has 11 players on the field at one time, with unlimited substitutions. Each team gets three time-outs per half. 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 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, other team gets the chance. If they succeed they get 4 new tries to move the ball 10 yards further. The main object 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. 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 1800's formalities were introduced to football rules in the seven major public schools of England.Handling the ball was permitted in football in the early 1800's 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 1890's 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 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, there is a line across the field every ten metres.

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 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 lack of hard protective equipments such as helmet and padding. That’s why in 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 case of Rugby, players are concerned more about retaining ball possession rather than gaining yardage as in case of American football.


A touchdown is the American football equivalent of rugby league's 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, 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.


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