Can American Football Players Play Rugby?

Can American Football Players Play Rugby?

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American football fans may run across rugby contests on television, and notice that the games seem quite similar, with the rectangular field, all that tackling, etc. Ever wonder why players from both sports don’t try switching sides?

American football players can play rugby if they wish ~ just as rugby players are free to play in the National Football League.

But few do, and it’s both a personal as well as cultural thing.

American Football vs. Rugby Differences

Rugby and American football were very similar until the end of the 19th century, when football began changing rules and melding into what eventually we see today. Both originally were what are called kick-and-run games; until the American version introduced the forward pass, and the games separated from there.

Both games feature intense physical contact and aggression between opposing players, almost as in a war, both sides pushing to take land in either direction. The big differences between football and rugby come with the equipment, scoring systems, and rules.

They each play on a rectangular field with goal posts at either end, but the first thing fans will notice is equipment on the players. Or, in the case of rugby, a lack thereof.

We all know American football players wear big strong helmets with full face masks, plus padding on the shoulders, thighs, knees, and sometimes hips and ribs.

Rugby players wear mouth guards.

Fans watching rugby on television will notice heads free of any covering, and shorts with knees without pads. Rules allow some equipment, particularly to cover or assist an injury, but rugby players have pride and no one wants to look like a sissy.

In game play, rugby is like soccer in that the players stay on the field and play continues for long stretches, without breaks. A lot of stamina is needed for both games as coaches can’t just call substitutions to give players a breather.

Football is played in violent bursts, separated by seconds to substitutions and realignment of the teams. American football is play-by-play. Rugby is just, well, one big play.

The American football game features a lot of throwing the football overhand, forward, and sometimes way down the field.

They lateral in rugby, underhanded, as the ball is just not designed for throwing easily.

As for rules, compared with the pointy, seamed American football designed to throw, a rugby ball looks squat.

There are 11 players per team in American football, of course; but rugby teams use 15 each. Seems like a lot, right? It might be the reason why when you watch rugby on TV it seems like there’s always a logjam of players. You rarely get long breakaway runs in rugby.

American football teams get more points for touchdowns, at 6 (followed by the extra point); rugby teams get 5 points for getting the ball into the end zone.

All that said, let’s get into scenarios where an American football player might play rugby, and vice versa.

Which is Harder Rugby or American Football?

This is a question asked too many times to count, and the answer is, it depends. What is the definition of “hard”? Toughest? Challenging either physically or mentally, or both? Most difficult to master? Therein lies the challenge.

Many argue that rugby is harder for the players since they wear no pads, and there’s a lot more dog-pile-moving (scrums) that take a lot of energy. It’s mostly a game of sheer strength.

Skills-wise, American football has to be harder. There just are more specialized and skilled positions, like the quarterback who must be able to throw, run, and manage the team on the field. Rugby doesn’t have an equivalent to football’s linebackers. It’s mostly a game of speed.

The football position that seems best attuned for rugby seems to be running back. Watch rugby ball carriers, and you can see a similar way they hold the ball, make moves to avoid tackles, and put their head down to ram into a crowd.

And of course pretty much any National Football League lineman would do at least decently in rugby.

Why Don’t Rugby Players Play American Football?

american football

It’s generally accepted that rugby players just don’t have enough physical talent to break into the very-competitive American football landscape. That mainly means foot speed though it could include throwing and catching. They just don’t do a lot of that in rugby.

A big deal is this: players who have played rugby exclusively have not gained experience also participating in football. Meaning, all the time playing rugby took away from time for experience playing football.

It’s a big deal because football skills are developed through repetitions, and in America those repetitions can start at very young ages.

It would probably be easier for football players to try rugby, than to have rugby players suddenly out in the open and having to have the foot speed to catch up in football games.

When you look at the players of each sport, notice the legs. Rugby players have thicker legs, stronger for pushing other players. American footballers have thinner legs (though not skinny; just thinner than those on rugby players) and tend to be taller, all good to be fast on those wide open spaces.


If football players played rugby; and if rugby players were on the gridiron

  • Tackling. American football players without helmets might be more timid, or play less aggressively, for fear of injury to the head and face. Rugby players wearing helmets would probably be fearless, or even fierce, given the peace of mind that their face was protected.
  • Crowded Field. American football players probably wouldn’t like losing the freedom to roam, as there are 8 more players total in rugby games to crowd the field. The other way, who knows if rugby players would be fast enough to maneuver around a gridiron to compete with players who are used to it?
  • Hits. American football players use those helmets and shoulder pads as weapons, using speed to smash into opposing players in attempts to cause fumbles, or to just intimidate. How would rugby players on offense in football handle hits where the other player gets a running start?
  • Balls. Going both ways, how would players handle bigger or smaller balls? The rugby ball is a little heavier, and it definitely is not shaped to throw overhand.

Related Questions

Question: Why don’t rugby players wear protective equipment?

Answer: Mainly it’s traditional, but in reality they believe its safer. Players without pads don’t use themselves as projectiles into other players ~ because the player acting as the missile would hurt himself. It seems whenever this topic surfaces, the modern responses involve safety. It seems counterintuitive, but that’s how it is in rugby.

Q.: Which ball is heavier?

A.: Rugby balls weigh about a pound while American footballs are slightly less, at 14 or 15 oz. The balls are about the same length.

Q.: Why do rugby teams wear stripes?

A.: Who knows? Just kidding. Tradition ~ rugby players have worn striped jerseys as long as anyone can remember.

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