American Football VS Rugby – What Are The Differences?

Last Updated on October 21, 2023 by Alex PT

American Football features forward passing, protective gear, and structured plays. Rugby involves continuous play, lateral passing, and minimal protective gear. American Football has 11 players per team, while Rugby typically has 15. The ball shape and scoring methods also differ, making each sport unique.

The Table Below Includes The Differences Between American Football And Rugby. 

Criteria Rugby American Football
OriginsOriginated in the 19th centuryOriginated from rugby
Geographic SpreadMore geographic spread across Europe Limited geographic spread
Substitution7 substitutions only Unlimited substitutions 
Ball Types A rugby ball is around 27cm and weighs about 1lbAn American football weighs few ounces less and is approximately 28cm long whereas
Number Of Players In A-Team15 players in a team 11 players in a team 
Field Dimensions Rugby pitches have a total length of 120m American football fields have a total length of 109.73m
Protective GearOnly a gum shield is mostly worn by players A helmet, shoulder and chest pads, leg protectors, as well as a gum shield
Match DurationA rugby game is played over a total duration of 80 minutesIn American football, each game is divided into four 15-minute quarters

American Football VS Rugby – Differences 

American Football VS Rugby Differences

We’ve listed some of the major differences between these two remarkable sports in the world today. Let’s check them out! 


American football was originated from the game of rugby. It is said that the British colonists introduced rugby to the Americans when they were arriving from Canada. And ever since there have been noticeable disparities between the two games as they are today.

 Rugby, on the other hand, was introduced in the 19th century or farther away. It was in 1871 that the very first Rugby Football Union was established. This association was made up of delegates from twenty-one different clubs from the south of England. After 20 years, the game of Rugby became so popular and more than 50% of the RFU clubs have spread into the northern part of England.  

Geographic Spread 

The game of rugby has the most geographic spread across the world. American football has its geography spread across the world, but it is mostly played in the United States. 

On the other hand, rugby is widely accepted and popular in other European countries like France, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and in Southern Hemisphere countries like South Africa, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand. Nonetheless, the game of rugby is also growing so fast in the United States of America. 

Game Objectives 

The game objective of rugby is to get more points than the opposing team. This is done by taking to the ball behind the opponent’s touchline and then keeping it down which is dubbed a try. A team can also get more points by kicking the ball through the tall goalposts during a conversion, drop goal, or, penalty kick.

The objective of American football is almost similar to that of rugby, but here, the ball is only carried behind the opposing team’s touchline to score more points than them. You can also get more points from a field goal where you’ll kick the ball between the posts.  

Ball Types

At first glance, you might think that the rugby balls and American footballs are the same, but they are completely different. A standard American football weighs a few ounces less and is approximately 28cm long whereas a rugby ball is around 27cm and weighs about 1lb. Also, An American football with a 56cm circumference at the center is not as fat in the middle when compared to a rugby ball with a 60cm circumference at the center. 

Besides, you’ll notice that an American football has more pointy ends as well as a seem which helps make throwing much easier. Rugby and American football players use the unique design of each ball type to their advantage. Rugby players normally pass the ball to their teammates in an underhand motion at short distances. However, you notice American football players passing the ball in an overhand motion for a stable flight in the air. 

Number Of Players In A Team 

Rugby teams have more players than American football teams.15 players make a rugby team and they play on the pitch at a time while an American football team consists of only 11 players. 


Depending on the tournament rules and the type of league you’re playing in, a rugby team is only allowed to make up to 7 substitutions in a single game. Once a player has been substituted, he/she can’t be allowed to play on the pitch again except if there are no other available players for substitutions. In American football, teams are allowed to make an unlimited number of substitutions. A whole team can be substituted depending on the coach. 


Rugby pitches are longer than American football fields. Rugby pitches have a total length of 120m whereas American football fields have a total length of 109.73m. American football fields are also smaller in terms of width, with a total width of 48.77m compared to rugby’s 70m. 

Protective Gear

American football players play with a wide range of equipment including a helmet, shoulder and chest pads, leg protectors, as well as a gum shield. These protective gear must be worn by all players as they are all necessary requirements in American football. In rugby, however, minimal protective gear is worn by players, with most players playing with only a gum shield. 

Physical Contact

The two sports are both physically demanding as they require a huge amount of physical contact during the gameplay. Physical contact in American football can be limited thanks to the variety of protective gear worn by players. However, physical contact in rugby is heavier and horrendous with less protective equipment worn by players. 

Match Duration 

In American football (NFL) matches, each game is divided into four 15-minute quarters. There’s normally a 12-minute long break after the first two quarters. Also, there’s a 2-minute break at the end of the first and third quarters as the two opposing teams are switching ends of the field after each quarter. However, in rugby, a game is played over a total duration of 80 minutes with 40 minutes for the first half and 40 minutes for the second half. 

Football vs rugby: Key similarities

AspectFootball (Soccer)Rugby
ObjectiveScore goals by kicking the ball into the opposing team’s net.Rectangular, turf, or grass
Team SizeTypically 11 players per team.Typically 15 players per team.
Ball ShapeSphericalOval
Duration90 minutes (2 halves)80 minutes (2 halves)
Playing FieldRectangular, turf, or grassRectangular, grass, or turf
RefereesCenter referee and assistantsOne referee, touch judges
Offside RuleAppliesDoesn’t apply
ScoringGoals (1-3 points)Tries (5 points) and conversions (2 points), penalties (3 points), and drop goals (3 points).

Closing Thoughts 

Rugby and American football are two popular sports in the United States and other parts of the world today. They have few similarities and differences in match duration, protective gear worn by players, field measurements, substitution, and number of players in each team. We’ve come to the closing chapter of this informative article. We hope you were able to find good and reliable resources in your quest to know the differences between American football and rugby. If you have any questions or comments about the article topic, don’t hesitate to contact us. Thanks!


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