Rugby at Dusk

Photo by Chino Rocha on Unsplash

If you aren’t familiar with either Rugby or American football, you will be forgiven for concluding that both are the same sport. The striking similarities between both sports in terms of gameplay, physicality, and optics make it such that many people believe they are one and the same.

Thus, one can understand why many would struggle to tell the two sports apart. However, there are a couple of crucial differences between the two sports. In this article, we will be exploring these differences between rugby and American football. Let’s dive right in:

History & Origin

It is perhaps not surprising to hear that rugby and American football have historical ties. Notably, rugby came first, with its origin going back all the way to the 19th century and possibly even earlier. The sport was developed from the game of soccer, with players being permitted to handle the ball on certain occasions. By 1871, the Rugby Football Union had been formed, consisting of representatives from 21 clubs located in London. Within two decades, the sport had become widespread and was especially popular in northern England.

Many believe that rugby was brought to America by British colonists from Canada. And subsequently, American football was developed from rugby as a separate sport.

Field of Play

For American football, the playing pitch is typically a rectangular field with a length of 120 yards (110 meters) and a width of 53 1/3 yards (49 meters). Compared to American football, rugby pitches are a bit wider, featuring a length of 122-134 yards (120 meters) and a width of 74-76 yards (70 meters).

Another critical difference between both sports is the dimension of end zones. The end zones for American football are generally 10 yards wide as opposed to rugby, where end zones are 5.5-24 yards.

Ball Size

The ball dimensions in both sports are a bit different. In American football, the ball is prolate spheroid shaped with a length of about 11 inches (28 cm) and a center circumference of around 28 inches (71 cm). Notably, the ball used in American football is pointy and provides more grip. On the other hand, a rugby ball has a size of 27 cm in length and 60 cm in circumference.

Unlike the ball used for American football, the rugby ball bounces more, is less pointy, and lacks stitches or laces for grip. In addition, the air pressure of both balls is different. On the football side, it is typically between 12.5 and 13.5 lbs, while rugby requires 9.5-10 lbs.

Geographic Spread

While many countries engage in American football, it is unsurprisingly played mainly in the US. Its major league is the NFL which has 8 divisions. Rugby, on the other hand, is popularly played in many countries worldwide, such as England, France, Argentina, South Africa, and Australia. There are several major domestic leagues across these various countries. However, the biggest rugby tournament is the Rugby World Cup. Given the popularity of both sports across the world, there is  a high level of sports betting activity around their major leagues.


The primary goal in an American football match is to score more points than the opposing team. Points are scored by carrying the ball behind the touchline of the opponents. This form of scoring points is known as a touchdown. In addition to touchdowns, teams can get points by kicking the ball between the goalposts. This is known as a field goal and is typically worth 3 points compared to the 6 points gotten from touchdowns.

The gameplay in a rugby match is quite similar in the sense that teams also try to carry the ball to the opponent’s touchline. In rugby, this is called a ‘try.’ However, unlike in American football, the ball must be placed down on the opponent’s touchline for the points to count. It is also worth noting that a try in rugby is worth 5 points. Teams in rugby can also score points by kicking the ball between the opponent’s goalposts on certain occasions.

Time Limits

An American football match is played for 90 minutes across 4 quarters of 15 minutes each. There is usually a half-time break after 30 minutes. Furthermore, the game clock is usually stopped frequently in an American football match.

On the other hand, rugby is played for 80 minutes with two halves of 40 minutes each. There is usually a half-time break of 10 minutes after the first half. Unlike football, the game clock in rugby is stopped only when there is a prolonged injury.