Football: Tough Sport Or Just Poor Man’s Rugby?

Football is not for the weak or easily intimidated.

The National Football League had over 170 head injuries in 2011 alone.

However, being exposed to rugby, I have to say rugby has to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, game in the world.

This isn’t a post about whether you’re more of a “man” if you play one or the other. And no matter which one you play, they’re both violent and can lead to some serious injuries. This is just about a few differences.

More pads,harder hits

Courtesy of Getty Images

Courtesy of Getty Images

Yes, football players hit harder. Before you agree or disagree, hear me out.

Being covered from head to toe in pads allows you to use your body with reckless abandonment  The hits in football have gotten so violent and dangerous that the National Football League had to change the way the game is played. This has left a certain void in the NFL because the games aren’t as exciting as they used to be, but it should lead to less head injuries and less tragic stories linked to those injuries. Rugby players typically do not have the run up that football players do, a safety can have a 15 yard full speed sprint before he collides with another player. Rugby players generally know when they’re about to get tackled. They can prepare themselves mentally and physically. However, football players, whether their on offense or defense, get blind sided a few times a game.

The hits are harder, but they hurt less. This isn’t to say they don’t hurt or you can’t get injured in football, but rugby leaves you hurting more the next day. Next time you watch a rugby game keep an eye on players in a scrum or ruck. Players get stomped and punched and no one looks twice. And because you have the same players on the field for 80+ minutes, players tend to get more tired and can’t recharge after each dead ball, like in football. However, you won’t see as many serious injuries in rugby because they don’t wear pads. Sounds counter-intuitive, but because they don’t wear pads it forces rugby players to make more fundamentally sound tackles.

More strategy, less all rounders

Galleo Images

Courtsey of Galleo Images

Football has more strategy and more specialists, but not as many athletes. Once again, hear me out.

Every single down in football has a called play on offense, defense and special teams. There is never a time in a game where players just do their own thing like you would in the park with friends. There are audibles, changing the play right before the ball is hiked, but it isn’t a free-for-all, it’s just replacing one specific play with another specific play. There are so many different formations and schemes on offense and defense, like bringing in extra linemen to catch the defense with a smaller and less physical defense back still on the field. On the other side of the ball, gone are the days of the simple defense. Defenses consist of hybrid systems of zone and man-to-man coverages mixed in with a variety of blitzes. All of these strategies are constructed to try to catch one team out of position.

Of course rugby has strategy too. There are a number of different techniques and formations interwoven into the free-flowing game. There are situational strategies like lineouts and scrums, and techniques like dummies, switches and loops, and you have to make sure your defense is always in a strong formation. However, there is just not as much strategy or play-calling. The reason is because rugby doesn’t stop as often as football does.

Courtesy of Inside the Playbook

Courtesy of Inside the Playbook

Playing constantly for two 40 minute halves is grueling and exhausting. All 15 rugby players stay on the field the whole time, barring injury or substitution. The same players are on offense, defense and kick (special teams). Each player does have a position and a general skill set, but for the most part they can be interchangeable. In today’s football, you would be hard-pressed to find a team that has more than two players playing who can play both offense and defense. Each player has a very specific skill set, and there might be a player who plays corner back and plays a little receiver, but you will never see a quarterback on the other side of the ball. This would explain why there is such a variety of athletes on a football team. Rugby does also has a variety of sizes and weights, but you don’t see many players over 250 pounds (113 kg). In today’s NFL, a lineman would seem out-of-place if he didn’t weigh over 330+ pounds(151 kg). That is why rugby players, as a whole, are in a lot better shape.

Different, not better

There will be endless comparisons between the two sports since football does get its origins from rugby. It’s a lot like comparing baseball to cricket, the playing surface and equipment share similarities, but the actual games are completely different. So whether you strap on the pads or get ready for a scrum, just be ready for a physically intense game.


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