Rugby and American Football, My Take on the Biggest Difference

Some of my peeps ask me what the biggest difference is between rugby and american football.  It’s not the difference in the players, or the ball, or how many players are on the field, or how many pads the players are wearing.


In my mind, it’s about where the ball is on the field instead of who has the ball.


It’s that rugby is a game based on territory, while American Football is based around possession of the ball.  Rugby is such a fluid game, not stopping as much as American Football, that the location of the ball is much more important than who has it at the moment.  Whoever has the ball can change at a moment’s notice, and where the ball is becomes much more important. 


While American Football is focused more on who has the ball.  Given that American Football is much more structured – with a certain number of downs and distance before either turning the ball over or earning more possession of the ball, and plays developed to maximize possession and minimize risk of gaining territory.   Even when teams throw the ball deep, if the ball is turned over there can be a long time before they get the ball back, again focusing on possession instead of where the ball is.


As a result you get a game that requires more tactical movement of the ball, and less of a strategic philosophy than you see with rugby.  In rugby, you can’t plan out each play throughout the game, play-by-play, because the game is too chaotic and dynamic that, more often than not, you have to develop basic plays and apply them on the fly, depending on the situation and the location of the ball.  This is why set piece practice for rugby teams is still important, because at a moment’s notice you can suddenly have possession of the ball right next to the end zone.


I’m not here to either bury or praise rugby, or American Football. I love them both for different reasons, they are both exciting once you know the basics.  If you haven’t seen a rugby game yet, you should sit down with a friend, or at the local Celtic pub, and watch a game, asking questions as you go (or, ya know, you can leave comments here to be answered too. 😉 )



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