Ever wondered whether football or rugby causes more injuries, is more dangerous or is more loved around the world? In this football vs rugby article that’s what we’ll look at, covering rugby in general (instead of focusing on either code) and covering American football as played in the NFL and college football leagues.
Rugby vs American Football
There is only one soccer, but there are different forms of American football and rugby. These are not massive differences though and are mere tweaks to the basic rules. As for rugby vs football, the rule differences are huge.
The ball is a similar shape, but much bigger in rugby. Games of American football last for 4 quarters and a total of 60 minutes, even though there is an average of just 11 minutes of action per game (once you take out the time between plays where the ball is effectively dead). In rugby, there are two halves of 40 minutes each and the action lasts for around 60 minutes, with much of the wasted time coming from scrums and line-outs.
In terms of popularity, the contest of rugby vs NFL is easily won by the latter. It may be played in fewer countries, but you can’t argue with the fact that the main event, the Super Bowl, draws many more viewers than the Rugby World Cup Final. That’s because most of the US, which has a huge population, sits down to watch the Superbowl, while the many countries that obsess over rugby have very small populations.
So, rugby is more universal, but American football attracts more viewers.
Rugby vs Football Injuries: Which is More Dangerous?
In a moment we’ll look at brain injures and discuss how these seem to be more common in the NFL. But when you compare rugby v football injuries, they are roughly the same. There are bigger hits and more damage done in football. Breaks are common. But the higher tempo and constant activity of rugby leads to more muscle damage, more sprains, etc.,
Injuries are very common in both and it’s actually unusual for a team to go several weeks of playing and training without losing at least one player to an injury that will see them out of action for a few weeks. Career threatening injuries are also common in both sports, with knee injuries being a particularly troublesome and common problem.
Rugby vs Football Concussions
Both of these sports have generated a lot of controversy in recent years with regards to concussions and brain injuries. There have been deaths resulting from severe brain damage, as well as conditions believed to result from repeated concussions. In a moment we’ll discuss rugby vs football injuries, but what about concussions and brain damage, is it rugby or American football that is the more dangerous?
Well, while you might think that rugby was the more dangerous based on the fact that they don’t wear padding, but football actually seems to have the highest instances of brain injuries. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, while head tackles are not exactly encouraged in football, they still happen and because players are all padded up, they have a tendency to use their bodies like weapons.
This, combined with the “big hit” culture whereby hard hits make the highlight reels, and juxtaposed against the fact that head tackles are illegal in rugby, is why they are more common in football. Another point worth noting when comparing rugby vs NFL is that the latter simply requires the ball holder’s knee to touch the ground for them to be tackled. This is true even if the defender has launched themselves at the attacker and they have flipped over several times and landed several feet away.
In rugby, that attacking player would be free to get up and continue. A tackle in rugby requires the player to be held firmly in the tackle and on the ground, which has led to an official “rugby tackle” technique that is both efficient and also a lot safer for all players involved.
Rugby vs Football Brain Injuries
One study on former pros noted that 34 of the 35 tested had some form of brain damage, and previous studies have also raised concerns. That’s not to say that rugby is not dangerous or that it doesn’t cause brain injuries, because it does. But with regards to football vs rugby brain injuries, it’s definitely football that leads the way.
There are thousands of cases being brought against the NFL for these issues and they have worked very hard to brush them under the carpet. Only in the last few years have these began to come to the surface. In rugby, there have also been issues in the past, but they have not been as active in hiding them, mainly because the game is played all over the world and controlled by many evil organizations and not just one (we’re joking, we’re sure they are all lovely).
There have been instances of players losing consciousness repeatedly and calls being made to bring legal action against the teams and leagues involved. Such was the case with Welsh player George North, who lost consciousness during a game, was allowed to play on, and then lost consciousness later on without even being tackled. The issue here is that it looked like he had been tackled and only later, after reviewing instant replays, did anyone realize that he had simply blacked out while going into the tackle.
It is clear that both sports have issues. But it’s not snooker, it’s not soccer. They are fierce, hard-hitting, close-contact sports, so that was always gong to be the case.
Rugby vs NFL Overall
In terms of enjoyment, it’s all down to preference. We are not going to make a claim that one is better than the other because we know it will trigger an onslaught of emails! As it happens, I am from the UK and I grew up playing rugby, both forms (if you’re not sure what that means, check Rugby Union vs Rugby League). In my adulthood, I got into the NFL heavily.
For me, the competition of rugby vs football is a very personal one. Both are in my top three favorite sports and there are times when I have preferred both of them over the other. From the perspective of someone outside of the US, where soccer and rugby are common, I can say with certainty that it is very difficult to get into the NFL.
We are used to sports that are free flowing and quick. If you put the question of rugby vs NFL to the average Brit, the answer will be rugby 99% of the time. But it’s all about what you grew up with and what you’re used to.
Rugby vs NFL Winner
Rugby causes less concussions and brain injury. It requires you to be fitter and to have more stamina, because everyone on the team needs to run and tackle for 90 minutes. It’s also more of a universal game, as it’s the main sport in counties like South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and the second sport in a dozen other countries.
On the flip side, many NFL players are stronger. They have more specific skills, depending on their position. And it’s also easy to convert to a completely non-aggressive game (flag football). In other words, there are pluses and minuses to both, it depends who you are, what you’re looking for and what you’re judging them on.
For us, it’s as close as we will ever get to a split decision.
Once you’ve made your decision here, be sure to checkout our other articles on sports including Baseball vs Cricket. We also recommend checking out one of the best table games around for what we like to call the “lazy man’s soccer”.