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Rugby League vs. Rugby Union: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 14, 2024
Rugby league has 13 players per team, emphasizes speed and set plays, while rugby union has 15 players per team, focuses on territorial gain and has more set-piece play.

Key Differences

Rugby league teams comprise 13 players each, focusing on speed and agility. Rugby union teams, in contrast, consist of 15 players, emphasizing strength and strategic territorial play.
In rugby league, the ball is in play more often with a faster pace and fewer stoppages. Rugby union features more complex rules with an emphasis on set-pieces like scrums and lineouts, leading to a more strategic game.
Rugby league allows six tackles before possession changes, making the game faster and more fluid. Rugby union permits an unlimited number of tackles, which can lead to prolonged phases of play and strategic depth.
The scoring system differs slightly; rugby league typically awards four points for a try, while rugby union awards five. This difference affects the overall strategies and scoring patterns of the games.
Historically, rugby league emerged from rugby union as a professional variant, often associated with working-class communities. Rugby union, traditionally an amateur sport, has strong ties to educational institutions and upper-class societies.

Comparison Chart

Number of Players

13 per team
15 per team

Game Pace

Faster, with more emphasis on speed
Slower, with more emphasis on strategy

Tackling Rules

Six tackles before turnover
Unlimited tackles

Scoring Points

Four points for a try
Five points for a try

Cultural Association

Associated with working-class communities
Tied to educational institutions and upper class

Rugby League and Rugby Union Definitions

Rugby League

A variant of rugby focusing on fluid, continuous play.
Rugby league's continuous play kept the audience enthralled.

Rugby Union

A rugby game known for its five-point try scoring system.
The rugby union team executed a perfect play to score a five-point try.

Rugby League

A fast-paced rugby variant with 13 players per team.
The rugby league match showcased remarkable speed and agility.

Rugby Union

A rugby type with a rich history in educational institutions.
Rugby union has strong ties to prestigious universities.

Rugby League

A rugby game distinguished by its unique scoring system.
The team’s strategy in rugby league focused on maximizing four-point tries.

Rugby Union

A variant of rugby emphasizing set-pieces like scrums.
Rugby union's complex scrums are key to its strategic depth.

Rugby League

A professional rugby form known for its rapid gameplay.
Rugby league is popular for its high-scoring, dynamic matches.

Rugby Union

A traditional rugby sport with unlimited tackle phases.
The rugby union match featured prolonged and tactical phases of play.

Rugby League

A rugby sport emphasizing set plays and limited tackles.
In rugby league, the team executed a strategic set play after the tackle.

Rugby Union

A rugby form with 15 players per team, focusing on strategic play.
The rugby union game was a display of strength and strategy.


How does scoring differ in rugby league and rugby union?

Rugby league awards four points for a try, while rugby union awards five.

Are the rules for tackling the same in both rugby forms?

No, rugby league limits to six tackles before turnover, while rugby union allows unlimited tackles.

Is rugby league faster than rugby union?

Yes, rugby league is generally faster with more continuous play.

What is the primary difference between rugby league and rugby union?

Rugby league has 13 players per team and faster gameplay, while rugby union has 15 players and focuses on strategy.

What are set-pieces in rugby union?

Set-pieces in rugby union include scrums and lineouts, crucial for game strategy.

Does rugby league have scrums?

Yes, but they are less complex and less frequent than in rugby union.

Are player positions the same in both rugby types?

While there are similarities, some positions and roles differ due to the game's nature.

Is rugby union more strategic than rugby league?

Yes, due to its complex rules and set-pieces, rugby union is often more strategic.

Is rugby league popular in specific regions?

Yes, it's particularly popular in parts of England, Australia, and New Zealand.

Are the balls used in both sports the same?

Yes, both rugby league and rugby union use similar oval-shaped balls.

Does rugby union have a world cup?

Yes, the Rugby Union World Cup is a major international tournament.

Is rugby league easier to understand than rugby union?

Some find rugby league rules simpler and more straightforward than rugby union.

Can the same player excel in both rugby league and rugby union?

Yes, though it's rare due to the different skill sets required.

Can rugby league matches have higher scores?

Generally, yes, due to its faster pace and scoring system.

What is the cultural significance of rugby union?

Rugby union has historical ties to educational institutions and upper-class societies.

How does the pace of play affect rugby league tactics?

The faster pace in rugby league often requires quicker decision-making and agility.

How do substitutions work in rugby league?

Rugby league allows a set number of interchanges, which is different from rugby union.

Why was rugby league created?

Rugby league was created as a professional alternative to rugby union, appealing to working-class communities.

Is rugby union played more internationally than rugby league?

Yes, rugby union has a wider international presence and recognition.

Is there a professional league for rugby union?

Yes, there are several professional rugby union leagues worldwide.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
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.

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