The history of rugby union vs rugby league is a long and complex one. But why are there two codes of rugby to begin with, which is more popular, which requires more speed, skill and strength and which one generates the most money? As always, Versus-All is here to make the comparison and find the differences.
Rugby League vs Union History
These two versions of rugby exist because there was a disagreement with regards to the rules. As is usually the case, when a sport is first invented it is an organic process, done so a few people can enjoy themselves and not so that they can create an official game. This result in arguments and disagreements, in changes and complications.
The games officially split toward the end of the 19th century in the UK, but they split several decades later in France after similar disagreements.
Rugby League vs Union Rules
The “try”, which is the main score, is the biggest difference between these two games. It is so named because in the past you needed to get a “try” in order to attempt a kick at goal, which was the only way to score a point. These days a try, which is scored when a player puts the ball down over the opponent’s goal line, is awarded 4 points in League and 5 points in Union.
A conversion, which is the kick that comes after, scores 2 points in both games. A penalty and a drop goal both score 3 in Union, whereas they score 2 and 1 respectively in League. This may not sound like much of a difference, but it changes the game because it means teams are more likely to go for a try than to accept the penalty in League, whereas Union is more of a kicking game because penalties score so highly.
The tackles are the other major difference in rugby league vs rugby union. In Union, it is possible for one team to hold onto the ball indefinitely. The tackled player has to pass the ball back, after which his teammates fight for it and try to stop the other team “turning it over”. In league it’s much simpler. They get 6 tackles and then the ball is handed over to the other team who also get six tackles.
Both games are territorial, as no team wants to be caught near their own goal line. So, Union players tend to kick long when in such a position and League ones will reach tackle 5 and then kick to avoid having to hand the ball over.
Rugby Union vs Rugby League: Fitness and Speed
There is much more speed in Rugby League. The reduced points for kicks and the tackle rule means it makes more sense for the players to constantly run for the try line, only kicking when they reach their fifth tackle, after which the other team gets the ball and the non-stop action returns.
Both games need speed and fitness, but it could be argued that there is a lot more of this needed in League.
Rugby Union vs Rugby League: Strength and Power
Again, this is needed in both games, but the amount of effort that goes into retaining/winning the ball following a tackle means that there is more needed in Union. The scrum is also active in Union, whereas it’s not contested in League. This helps to speed the game of Rugby League up, as scrums can be slow, but they also require a lot of power.
Rugby League vs Rugby Union: Injuries and Brain Damage
The effort that goes into trying to retain or win the ball following every tackle mean that the risk of serious injury and brain damage is higher in Union. When it comes to risk in Rugby Union vs Rugby League, both are up there. As discussed in our Rugby vs Football article, there are sports that are more dangerous, but not many.
Rugby Union vs Rugby League: Which Burns More Calories?
So, which game burns the most calories? If you’ve bought your Christmas trees (take a look here) opened the presents, tucked into a huge dinner and are looking to burn off those extra Kcals, or you’ve just been overindulgent at any other time of year, which game is best for getting you back into shape?
This is a tough one. It’s hard to say and probably comes down to the position. If you play not he wing in Union then you’re constantly running, kicking and getting involved. There is a good chance you will burn more calories than someone on the wing in League. But a League winger will likely burn more than a Union center.
It’s easy to pick Rugby League out as the winner here based on the non-stop action. But you can never underestimate the amount of effort that goes into bringing a player down and this seems to be slightly more in Union, because the tackle is only the beginning of the process.
Rugby Union vs Rugby League: Which Players Earn the Most?
Rugby players just don’t earn as much as soccer players or American football players. In fact, they don’t earn as much as the better snooker players either. The average seems to be around £50,000 a year in the UK, which is roughly what the average soccer player earns in week. This has been rumored to increase to a couple hundred thousand a year for the better players, but even that is very little when you think that the guys are putting it on the line ever week.
It’s also less than what rugby union players can earn, but it all depends on the player and the teams they play for. More people watch Rugby Union on TV and in the stadium. More merchandise is sold, more TV appearances and sponsorships occur and there is generally more money in it. But obviously, one of the better Rugby League players will earn more than one of the less known Rugby Union players.
The better paid Rugby Union players are said to earn in excess of £1 million a year, which is a fraction of what soccer players earn, but a great deal more than what Rugby League players earn.
Rugby Union vs Rugby League: Which is Best?
It’s a matter of preference. I personally grew up playing Rugby League and always preferred it for the speed, but at the same time, I would rather watch a Rugby Union international tournament, because it’s much bigger and just feels more important. I also think that the game of Union is better suited to the big occasion and judging by viewing figures, I am not alone. Many non-rugby fans will tune in to watch the Rugby Union World Cup if their country is playing, but the same can’t be said for Rugby League.
In terms of popularity, money earned and impact on the global stage, union wins. In terms of speed and skill, you have to give it to League. All in all, Rugby League vs Rugby Union is a contest that doesn’t need to exist. We can enjoy both soccer and rugby; we can enjoy pool and snooker; so why can’t we enjoy both codes of rugby?
Watch, play and, if you can, invest in these sports. They both deserve to be bigger than they are.