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Rugby versus American Football

Rugby versus American Football

by Leana Kell

Rugby versus American Football

American Football has enjoyed a strong and growing fan base throughout the UK thanks to a new partnership formed between the National Football League (NFL) and the Rugby Football Union (RFL) in November 2015.

NFL originated from early versions of rugby in the United States, and because of this Twickenham recently welcomed the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams to its stadium in October 2016 to stage the first ever non-rugby sporting event of its scale since the famous rugby venue opened in 1909. General admission tickets to the game sold out in minutes and there are two further American Football games planned at Twickenham over the next 3 years.

But despite the avid following of the NFL in the UK, the game of Rugby and American Football remains very different. Below, Centurion takes a look at some of the key differences between the two popular games.


The game of Rugby has 15 players and 8 reserves to form a 23-man squad. When a starting player from the team leaves, he or she will not return to the field unless there is a concussion or major injury. Reserves do not have to be used either. In American Football, although there are only 11 players from each side on the field at any time, the overall team is made up of 45 players ranging in size and speed who possess different roles within the team. The 'offence' are the team's attacking players who attempt to move the ball forward and score touchdowns. The 'defence' are players who line up to stop the other team's offence from having possession of the ball. In addition, there is a 'special' team that only comes in on kicking situations such as punts, field goals and kick offs.


Passing is different for Rugby and American Football players. In Rugby, passing the ball back is one of the key elements of the game. An unintentional throw forward or 'knock-on' is an infringement to the game and will lead to a scrum being awarded to the opposition. In American Football general play, players can throw the ball forward, kick it or even pass it backward.


The game of rugby lasts 80 minutes over two 40 minute halves whereas in the NFL the games are divided into four 15 minute quarters, separated by a 12-minute break at half time. There are also 2 minute breaks at the end of the first and third quarters as teams change ends of the field after every 15 minutes of play.

Rugby Scrum


In rugby, a tackle serves two main purposes, to bring a player to the ground or hold them and keep them off the deck. In NFL, if the defence brings the ball carrier to the ground (i.e. a player is tackled when one or both of his knees touch the ground), then play is over. Play also ends when a player runs out of bounds (as it does in rugby if the ball is run into touch or kicked out).

General play

As long as you hold onto the ball in rugby, you can do whatever you can to move the ball up the field. In American Football, play is measured in yards (1 yard is 0.9144 metres). The field is 100 yards long as opposed to a 100 metre field in rugby. The offensive team tries to get as much “yardage” as it can to try and move closer to the opponent’s end zone. Each time the offense gets the ball, it has four downs, or chances, in which to gain 10 yards. If the offensive team successfully moves the ball 10 or more yards, it earns a first down, and another set of four downs.


In Rugby, a try is worth five points, a conversion two – and a penalty or drop goal is worth three points. In American Football, a touchdown (roughly equivalent to a try) is worth six points. A field goal, which a team can opt for if they cannot score a touchdown, is worth three points and can be attempted from anywhere on the field, although generally these are kicked from inside the defence’s 45-yard line on fourth down. An American Football field goal attempt is normally carried out by a specialist kicker who will come onto the field and the goal is kicked with a team-mate holding the ball. In rugby, the field goal is attempted using a drop-kick.