The die-hard fans of rugby know very well that there are two different types out there – Rugby League and Rugby Union. However, new fans may not be able to explain the difference between the two versions of the same sport. That’s why we decided it’s about time to write an article that explains what sets the two disciplines apart. But before we go into the differences between Rugby Union and Rugby League, let’s first find out where the rupture came from. What caused the two types of Rugby to exist in the first place?

The Schism Between Rugby League and Rugby Union

It is strongly believed that the sport of Rugby had its debut around 1845 at the Rugby School in Warwickshire, England. The legend has it that William Webb Ellis, during a game of football, decided to take the ball in hand and run with it. Even though this event isn’t documented in any way, the fans of the sport take it as eternal truth and even the Rugby World Cup Trophy is named after the illustrious figure that is believed to be the father of all rugby forms.

The new sport was quickly embraced by other schools and clubs in the area and it was just a matter of time until a governing body was formed. 1870 is the year when the Rugby Football Union was established in England. It contained all the schools and clubs playing rugby and it also came with a set of official rules in 1871. These rules clearly specified that the sport should remain a pastime activity and professionalism was the main enemy.

However, starting with 1892, the clubs in Yorkshire started to pay the players that missed work to get to the games. As this came in direct contradiction with the Rugby Football Union rules, it generated a huge dispute between these clubs and the governing body. The dispute grew bigger and bigger until it was no turning back. The clubs in Yorkshire, with the support of Lancashire club as well, broke away from the Rugby Football Union. Later on, they formed the Northern Rugby Football Union and came up with a different set of rules for the sport. From this moment on, when you refer to rugby, you have to clearly specify if you’re talking about rugby union (the original sport governed by the RFU) or rugby league (that was born in Northern England and got a new set of rules).

Differences in Rules

The first major difference between rugby union and rugby league comes from the number of players on the field. The Union type of rugby is played with a team of 13 players while Rugby League has 15 players per side. Another rule that sets the two forms of rugby apart is the number of substitutions. Rugby league teams can make ten substitutions while the teams playing by the union rules can only change 7 players during a game.

Because of the difference in players a team has, the pitch size is also different between the two types of rugby. Naturally, rugby league is played on a larger field due to the extra 2 players on the pitch.

When it comes to the methods of scoring, things aren’t that different. While tries, drop goals and penalties are valid for both types of rugby, the points you get when scoring is different. Rugby union awards five points for a try and also offers a conversion that can add an extra two points. Rugby league, on the other hand, indicates that four points are awarded for a try with another two points possible from converting the kick after the try. Furthermore, a penalty and a drop goal will be worth three points each in rugby union while rugby league dictates that a team will get one point for a drop goal and two points for a penalty.

Different Tackles for the Two Types of Rugby

Besides the rules pointed out above, rugby league such as the one played in the Aussie Rugby League competition comes with a different type of tackles compared to rugby union. After being tackled, a player that is playing rugby league has to place it between the legs and roll it to a teammate using their foot. This move is also referred to as a “chicken scratch” and each time can do this move up to six times when they have the ball. After a chicken scratch, the ball must be kicked towards the opposition in case a try isn’t scored. Also, if the ball goes out of play after this kick, the play will restart with a scrum composed of six players.

On the other hand, rugby union rules dictate that after a tackle, the player can release the ball and any player onside and on their feet can pick it up. This creates a very interesting moment when players compete for the ball on the ground in rucks and mauls when the ball is disputed. Also, when the ball goes out of play in rugby union, the game will be restarted with a lineout, not a scrum. The only scrum taking place in union rugby is the one formed of eight players used for resolving infringements such as knock-ons.