There are two sports that exist, equally as different as they are similar, which creates a perfect debate amongst Americans and others in the Eastern hemisphere. Which is better, American Football or Rugby?


Both games are famous for one big reason, and those would be the incredible crunching tackles. American Football players are generally larger than rugby players in physicality, and so the sight of a defensive tackle hurtling full pace would make most people reconsider their life choices, although the sight of any of the All Blacks might make me do the same thing. The debate point though is where players in the NFL wear protective gear, which although acts as a cushion, also means that players throw 100% of their energy into a tackle, whilst a rugby player knows that he has to not only abide by stricter rules, but is at more risk of injury. The ability for rugby players to make the crunching tackles without much or any protection means that if you put some armour on them, they would become a very real challenge to any football player. If we flip it and take the footballer’s protection away, there might initially be some real hesitation with any tackles, and it will take a little more time for them to adjust to the game.


The run time of a game in rugby is 80 minutes, made of two halves of 40. Compared to games in the NFL, this is an extraordinary amount of time to keep going.  Matches in American Football last about four hours, but game time is made up of only sixty minutes, split into quarters. I think if footballers tried to play the game of rugby, they wouldn’t be able to cope, as they rely on short bursts of energy. On the other hand, if rugby players tried football, the problems would lie not in the physical stamina, but barriers would appear in maintaining psychological stamina.


In many ways, rugby is quite a simple game. The main rules are just to run forwards, pass backwards. Where the real skill comes from is courage in making the tackles and in keeping the pace up for 80 minutes. This makes it a game that very young children can play. Football however, is extremely complicated; there are very many tactics that they have to memorise and put into practice whilst also simultaneously adapting to the plays of the opposition each and every week. It’s called a game of yardage, and that’s because the game is not just a game of sport, but is tactically challenging as well. Physical and mental warfare happens on that field. What with all the different plays, and the vast difference in terms of passing and covering, rugby players would really be out of their depth, no question.


During the World Cup and the 6 Nations, it’s not uncommon to see fireworks shot skywards, but when it comes to showmanship, the NFL trumps every other sport in the world. Everything from the team emerging onto the field to the extravagance of the half time show at the Superbowl makes for a really entertaining game when the ball isn’t even moving.

A Global Scale

American football sort of says it in the title. The popularity of the NFL is by no means small, and people in the UK are really starting to show an interest in it, but a large league does not really exist outside of the USA and Canada. Rugby however, stretches around the world, hence why there is a World Cup, uniting countries like South Africa, New Zealand and some European teams in an incredible tournament. It’s simplicity in the gameplay really does mean that people from anywhere in the world are able to take part, and it brings people together in way that football cannot.

Conclusion. Which is better?

The truth is that although these sports are similar in so many ways, their differences mean there is no clear winner. Football players would struggle as much with rugby as rugby players would struggle with American Football. The only possible situation you could truly see who owns the right to be called the best is in a simple one-on-one, attacker on tackler, as that really is the only similarity in the game. If that was the case, I would personally place my bets on the rugby player for the majority of the time.

Rugby has the high-octane, fast paced excitement that can keep you on the edge of your seat for the full eighty minutes, but the mind games that happen in the football are excellent to see come to life. There never will be an answer to which is better, and I think I’m ok with that.

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