Difference Wiki

American Football vs. Rugby: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 2, 2024
American football involves forward passes, heavy protective gear, and four-down series, while rugby features continuous play with lateral or backward passes and minimal protective equipment.

Key Differences

American football is predominantly played in the United States and follows a set of rules that emphasize stop-start tactics and set plays. Rugby, originating in England, is a faster-paced game with continuous play and fewer interruptions.
In American football, players wear extensive protective gear including helmets and padding, due to the high-impact nature of the game. Rugby players typically wear minimal protection, relying more on tackling technique for safety.
The scoring system in American football includes touchdowns, field goals, and safeties, reflecting its strategic play style. Rugby scores through tries, conversions, penalty kicks, and drop goals, promoting a more fluid and continuous gameplay.
American football teams consist of separate offensive, defensive, and special teams units, each specialized for different aspects of play. Rugby teams do not have this division, with players often participating in both offensive and defensive roles.
The ball used in American football is elongated and pointed at each end, designed for forward passing. Rugby uses a larger, more rounded ball, better suited for carrying and lateral passing.

Comparison Chart


Stop-start, strategic
Continuous, fluid

Protective Gear

Extensive (helmets, pads)

Scoring System

Touchdowns, field goals, safeties
Tries, conversions, penalty kicks

Team Structure

Separate offensive, defensive, special teams
Unified team roles

Ball Shape

Elongated, pointed
Rounded, larger

American Football and Rugby Definitions

American Football

Played with 11 players on each side.
Each American football team fields eleven players.


Characterized by continuous play and lateral passing.
The rugby team maintained possession through skilled passing.

American Football

A game where scoring is achieved by carrying the ball into the opponent's end zone.
In American football, the running back scored three touchdowns.


Minimal protective gear worn by players.
In rugby, players rely on technique over protective gear.

American Football

Utilizes a forward pass as a key offensive strategy.
The American football team executed a perfect forward pass.


A team sport played on a rectangular field, with goalposts at each end.
He scored a try in the rugby match last weekend.

American Football

A team sport played on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end.
The quarterback threw a touchdown in the last minute of the American football game.


Played with 15 players on each side in union, and 13 in league.
Their rugby team had 15 players, typical of rugby union.

American Football

Involves four downs to advance the ball ten yards.
The team converted on the fourth down in the American football match.


Scoring is primarily through tries and conversions.
The rugby player scored a conversion right between the posts.


A game played by two teams of 15 players each on a rectangular field 110 yards long with goal lines and goal posts at either end, the object being to run with an oval ball across the opponent's goal line or kick it through the upper portion of the goal posts, with forward passing and time-outs not permitted.


A form of football in which players can hold or kick an ovoid ball; rugby football. The ball cannot be handled forwards and points are scored by touching the ball to the ground in the area past the opponent's territory or by kicking the ball between goalposts and over a crossbar.
The scrum is a distinctive element of rugby.
The two rugbies split following a debate about amateurism.


(specifically) The form of the game known as rugby union (see the usage note).


(countable) rugby shirt


(Philippines) Rubber cement, contact cement.


(intransitive) To play rugby.


A form of football played with an oval ball


How is the ball advanced in American football?

Primarily through passing or running with the ball.

Can rugby players pass the ball forwards?

No, passes must be lateral or backward.

Is there a time limit for plays in American football?

Yes, plays must be initiated before the play clock runs out.

What is a try in rugby?

Scoring method by grounding the ball in the opponent's in-goal area.

Are there different versions of rugby?

Yes, primarily rugby union and rugby league.

How many players are on an American football team?

Eleven players on the field for each team.

Are scrums part of American football?

No, scrums are a unique feature of rugby.

What's the role of a quarterback in American football?

To direct the team's offense, often by throwing passes.

What is a 'down' in American football?

An opportunity for the offensive team to advance the ball.

Is blocking allowed in American football?

Yes, it's a key part of the game.

How is overtime determined in American football?

Through additional periods if the game is tied.

How are points scored in American football?

Through touchdowns, field goals, and safeties.

How does the scoring system differ in rugby league and rugby union?

The points awarded for different actions vary slightly between the two.

Is kicking allowed in rugby?

Yes, kicking is an integral part of rugby.

Do American football games have halves or quarters?

American football is played in four quarters.

How does a rugby match begin?

With a kickoff from the center of the field.

Can rugby players be substituted in and out freely?

No, there are restrictions on substitutions in rugby.

What is the significance of the Super Bowl in American football?

It's the championship game of the National Football League (NFL).

Are lineouts a part of American football?

No, lineouts are specific to rugby.

What is a ruck in rugby?

A phase of play where players compete for the ball on the ground.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons