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How Does American Football Compare and Contrast to Rugby Union?

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It can be argued that the closest sport to American football which is played around the world is rugby union. Although both sports have completely different rules, there are many crossovers, which is why many sports fan enjoy watching both.

Here is a look in some detail at those similarities and, of course, where they differ.

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Both American football and rugby union permit the participants to throw the ball with the hands. This is where they are very different from association football, where only the goalkeeper can touch the ball with their hands.

In American football, the quarterback throws the ball down the field with the aim of finding a receiver. One they reach the end zone, they have scored a touchdown. In rugby, the ball can only be thrown backwards. Any passes which are deemed forward result in a turnover.

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Penalties/Field Goals

In both sports, the teams have the option to kick between the sticks for points. In rugby it is known as a penalty, while in American football it is a field goal. Both of these earn the respective team three points.

There is also the option to the kick the ball following a try and touchdown. In rugby it is a conversion and equates to two points, while in American football it is known as the extra point.

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Rugby Played at International Level

Unlike American football, rugby is played at the highest level on the international stage. The biggest tournament in the sport is the World Cup which takes place every four years. The next staging of that competition comes in 2023 where New Zealand are the +320 favorites in the rugby union betting to come out on top.

The NFL is the biggest league in the world in American football. There are 18 regular season matches and then the play-offs begin. Two teams end the campaign in the Super Bowl. competing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. There is no greater honor than this in American football. 

Although it is predominantly played in the United States, the NFL have done an excellent job of promoting the sport in other countries through their International Series. Regular season games have seen played in London in 2007 and there seems to be a strong commitment to expanding the game to other markets such as Germany and in South America.


One of the big differences between American football and rugby is the amount of officiating required during a game. In rugby, there is just one official on the field. They are support by two touch judges. The referee has full control and commands a lot of respect from the players.

American football is a much more complex sport to officiate. In every game in the NFL, there are seven officials. They govern the game between themselves and can often be found debating a play.

Both sports have embraced video technology to help them come to the correct decision, but it is not overly relied on like some sports.

There are skills in both American football and rugby union that can be easily transferable. However, they do remain unique in their own way and supporters of both sports will argue theirs is the toughest to play.

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Abhishek Singh
Abhishek Singhhttps://thesportsroom.org
Abhishek is a veteran journalist who covers the sport of MMA, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Arm-wrestling, Boxing and Pop Culture. His passion for Combat Sports began when he first saw the highlights of boxing legends like Manny Pacquiao, Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto etc.
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