The difference between Rugby and American Football

©Steve Haag

Are you a sports enthusiast who has started taking coaching or want to be a part of the school football team?

Well, being a sports fan, it is no doubt that you would feel curious about the history of sports and their invention history. You may know a lot from your coach, but if you want to enrich yourself more with other in-depth knowledge, we are there for you. Two of the most popular forms of modern sport are American football and Rugby. Some people may consider these two as similar because one is an evolved version of the other. Another reason for messing these two up is, in these two, the balls are quite alike in shape, require the members to run throughout the whole range and many more. But the truth is, American football, also known as gridiron, was developed from Rugby and Soccer by the completion of the 19th century, and there prevails a lot of distinction amid them. If you are thinking Rugby to be NFL without pads, the answer is simply no.

The Difference Between Rugby and American Football 

Let's break down the complete variations.

Geographical Extent 

Though participating in numerous nations, the most maximum of the contestants commonly identified as football in America, are in the United States. It is very famous in North America. Rugby, on the other hand, is very prominent from a broader terrestrial perspective. Besides being a flourishing game in the US, it is well recognized among various nations in Europe. It is too famous in Meridional territory countries like Australia.


The participants in the American football must take the ball exceeding the opposing team's touchline and score points, known as a touchdown. The different way of gaining scores is to hit the ball within goalposts, which known as a field goal. 

The game analysis of Rugby is quite comparable; the participants have to put the ball down, called a 'try.' But to get points, they need to take the shot behind the opposing team's touchline. They may also hit the ball with a kick amid the goalposts and gain points known as a conversion, or goal.


Without getting into elaboration, how the points are scored in both games, let's have a look at the worth of the points.


  • Try (5 points)

  • Conversion (2 Points) 

  • Drop Kick (3 points)

  • Penalty Kick (3 points)

American football

  • Touchdown (6 points) 

  • Extra-points ( 1 or 2 points)

  • Drop Kick (3 points) 

  • Field Goal (3 points) 

  • Safety (2 points to the opponent team)

Total Estimation of Participants

The team of Rugby is much bigger than the other. It comprises 15 members who can keep active on the field at a time, having eight players in reserve. So the total number of players is 23.

In the case of other games, there are 11 players on the field in a team being in the offense. Both sides get the chance to play in attack and defense.


Unlimited replacement is possible in American football. There is no such hard and fast rule concerning the replacement of the members on the field.

Based on the rules of specific tournaments or leagues, a team can have a substitute of 7 members in the other sport. If a participant has already left the pitch cannot be active on the game again unless there is an urgency, and no replacement is open. 


Anyone who is a newbie in sports may not get the distinction in the shots of these two types of plays at first sight. But in both cases, the balls are pretty dissimilar.

  • The extent of a Rugby ball is around 27 cm, while the length of the ball of the other game is approximately 28 cm. 

  • Rugby ball has about 60 cm perimeter at the center, while the football is of 56 cm perimeter. Hence, the previous one is quite deeper than the other. 

  • The rugby ball is more massive than the American football weighing about 1 lb. 

  • Gridiron football has a lot of pointy ends and a seam than the Rugby ball to give the athlete better hold and launch.

Both designs are unparalleled, offering the players many benefits. The American football players aim to get a steady flight, and hence they apply an overhand movement while transferring the ball. On the other hand, Rugby players utilize an underhand motion for the pass.


The pitch of American football is less with a width of 48.47m than the extent of the other that approximately measure 70m in diameter. 

The Rugby field is also longer than the other (109.73m) with a length of 120m

Shielding Accessories

While being on the match, the participants have to wear a tremendous number of shielding gear compared to a Rugby player. The pieces of accessories include:

  • Headgear

  • Leg protector

  • Chest protector

  • Arm pads

  • Gum Shield

No player is allowed on the pitch without these pieces of gear while being on the game. 

Nevertheless, in the other sport, players do not use such shielding accessories unless a gum shield.

Time of Game

The time duration of Rugby is 80 minutes in total. The time is divided into halves having 40 minutes each. 

The NFL (National Football League) matches are divided into four 15 minutes quarters. There is a break of 12 minutes after finishing the first two quarters. 

Both teams get the chance to defend and attack. So they have to switch the ends of the fields and get 2-minute breaks after the finish of the 1st and 3rd quarters.

Number of Referees

In American football, there can be 3 to 6 referees in a single match whereas, in the other, the number of referees in a particular game is fixed, and it is 3.

There is no doubt that both games have few similarities also. Despite having many differences, both games are top-rated and enthralling to watch. The enthusiasts around the world eagerly wait for both the NFL Playoffs and Rugby World Cup.