Comparison of association football and rugby union

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France v Tonga, rugby union match from the 2011 Rugby World Cup, showing the sport's distinguishing feature, the ball carrier leads his team up-field passing backwards in the event of a tackle France vs Tonga 2011 RWC (4).jpg
France v Tonga, rugby union match from the 2011 Rugby World Cup, showing the sport's distinguishing feature, the ball carrier leads his team up-field passing backwards in the event of a tackle

Comparison of association football (football/soccer) and rugby union (rugby/rugger) is possible because of the games' similarities and shared origins.

Association football Team field sport

Association football, more commonly known as football or soccer, is a team sport played with a spherical ball between two teams of eleven players. It is played by 250 million players in over 200 countries and dependencies, making it the world's most popular sport. The game is played on a rectangular field called a pitch with a goal at each end. The object of the game is to score by moving the ball beyond the goal line into the opposing goal.

Rugby union Team sport, code of rugby football

Rugby union, commonly known in most of the world simply as rugby, is a contact team sport which originated in England in the first half of the 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand. In its most common form, a game is between two teams of 15 players using an oval-shaped ball on a rectangular field with H-shaped goalposts at each end.


Rugby union has a number of set pieces, such as line-outs, scrums and rucks that do not have direct equivalents in association football. Association football aims at a more open kind of play, and there is not the same differentiation between forwards and backs. Another major difference is that rugby union, unlike association football, has no goal keeper.

The goalkeeper, often shortened to keeper or goalie, is one of the major positions of association football. It is the most specialised position in the sport. The goalkeeper's primary role is to prevent the opposing team from scoring. This is accomplished by the goalkeeper moving into the path of the ball and either catching it or directing it away from the vicinity of the goal line. Within the penalty area goalkeepers are able to use their hands, making them the only players on the field permitted to handle the ball. The special status of goalkeepers is indicated by them wearing different coloured kits from their teammates.

History of early football

An early rugby game - note goalposts Webb-Ellis-at-Rugby,.jpg
An early rugby game – note goalposts

The earliest forms of football comprise the common ancestry of both association football and of rugby union. Two of the earliest recorded football type games from Europe include Episkyros [1] [2] from Ancient Greece and the Roman version Harpastum, [1] which similar to pre-codified "Mob Football" involved more handling the ball than kicking. [3] Other competitive games revolving around the kicking of a ball have been played in a few countries throughout history, such as cuju in China. [4]


Episkyros was an ancient Greek ball game. Highly teamwork oriented, the game was played between two teams of usually 12 to 14 players each, with one ball and the rules of the game which allowed using hands. Although it was a ball game, it was violent, at least in Sparta. The teams would try to throw the ball over the heads of the other team. There was a white line called the skuros between the teams and another white line behind each team. Teams would change the ball often until one of the team was forced behind the line at their end. In Sparta a form of episkyros was played during an annual city festival that included five teams of 14 players. It was played primarily by men but women also practiced it. The Greek game of episkyros was later adopted by the Romans, who renamed and transformed it into harpastum, the latinisation of the Greek ἁρπαστόν (harpaston), neuter of ἁρπαστός (harpastos), "carried away", from the verb ἁρπάζω (harpazo), "(I) seize, snatch".

Ancient Greece Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.

Roman Empire Period of Imperial Rome following the Roman Republic (27 BC–395 AD)

The Roman Empire was the post-Roman Republic period of the ancient Roman civilization. An Iron Age civilization, it had a government headed by emperors and large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. From the constitutional reforms of Augustus to the military anarchy of the third century, the Empire was a principate ruled from the city of Rome. The Roman Empire was then divided between a Western Roman Empire, based in Milan and later Ravenna, and an Eastern Roman Empire, based in Nicomedia and later Constantinople, and it was ruled by multiple emperors.

The rules of association football were codified in England by the Football Association in 1863 and the name association football was coined to distinguish the game from the other forms of football played at the time, specifically rugby football. The term soccer originated in England, first appearing in the 1880s as an Oxford "-er" abbreviation of the word "association". [5]

Football Group of related team sports

Football is a family of team sports that involve, to varying degrees, kicking a ball to score a goal. Unqualified, the word football is understood to refer to whichever form of football is the most popular in the regional context in which the word appears. Sports commonly called football in certain places include association football ; gridiron football ; Australian rules football; rugby football ; and Gaelic football. These different variations of football are known as football codes.

Rugby refers to the team sports rugby league and rugby union. Legend claims that rugby football was started circa 1845 in Rugby School, Rugby, Warwickshire, England, although forms of football in which the ball was carried and tossed date to medieval times. Rugby eventually split into two sports in 1895 when twenty-one clubs split from the original Rugby Football Union, to form the Northern Union in the George Hotel, Huddersfield, Northern England over the issue of payment to players, thus making rugby league the first code to turn professional and pay its players, rugby union turned fully professional in 1995. Both sports are run by their respective world governing bodies World Rugby and the Rugby League International Federation. Rugby football was one of many versions of football played at English public schools in the 19th century. Although rugby league initially used rugby union rules, they are now wholly separate sports. In addition to these two codes, both American and Canadian football evolved from rugby football.

Oxford "-er"

The Oxford "-er", or often "-ers", is a colloquial and sometimes facetious suffix prevalent at Oxford University from about 1875, which is thought to have been borrowed from the slang of Rugby School. The term was defined by the lexicographer Eric Partridge in his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.

Within the English-speaking world, association football is now usually called football in the United Kingdom, and mainly soccer in Canada and the United States. Other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, may use either or both terms.

English-speaking world countries and regions where English is everyday language and people (or peoples) who speak English

Approximately 330 to 360 million people speak English as their first language. With 258 million native speakers, the United States of America comprises the majority of the global total. As pictured in the pie graph below, most native speakers of English are Americans.

Most of the interplay between the two codes occurred in the nineteenth century, where the "Associationists" preferred a kicking game, and the "Rugbeians" preferred a handling/carrying game. The term "soccer" was formed by analogy to "rugger", a nickname for rugby football.

One of the early differences between the two codes, beyond playing style, was that of amateurism and professionalism. While rugby union football remained resolutely amateur until the 1990s (resulting in the split with rugby league), association football became professional very early on.

Rugby league team sport, code of rugby football

Rugby league football is a full-contact sport played by two teams of thirteen players on a rectangular field. One of the two codes of rugby, it originated in Northern England in 1895 as a split from the Rugby Football Union over the issue of payments to players. Its rules progressively changed with the aim of producing a faster, more entertaining game for spectators.


Association football

Standard pitch measurements for association football Football pitch metric and imperial.svg
Standard pitch measurements for association football

The penalty area is the large marked rectangular area. The smaller rectangle within it is the goal area (here the yellow-shirted goalkeeper is the only player in the goal area). The penalty arc is the curved line adjoining the "top" of the penalty area (here the red-shirted referee is standing near the arc).

While an association football pitch makes use of arcs and circles, all of the lines in rugby union are straight. Examples of such features include the centre circle is marked at 9.15 metres (10 yd) from the centre spot. Similar to the penalty arc, this indicates the minimum distance that opposing players must keep at kick-off; the ball itself is placed on the centre spot. During penalty shootouts all players other than the two goalkeepers and the current kicker are required to remain within this circle. The arcs in the corners denote the area (within 1-yard of the corner) in which the ball has to be placed for corner kicks; opposition players have to be 9.15 m (10 yd) away during a corner, and there may be optional lines off-pitch 10 yards away from the corner on the goal- and touch-lines to help gauge these distances. [6]

Rugby union

Rugby union field diagram Rugby field.svg
Rugby union field diagram

The field of play on a rugby pitch is as near as possible to a maximum of 144 metres (157 yd) long by 70 metres (77 yd) wide. [7] In actual gameplay there should be a maximum of 100 metres (109 yd) between the two try-lines, with anywhere between 10 and 22 metres behind each try line to serve as the in-goal area. [7] There are several lines crossing it, notably the halfway line and the "twenty two", which is 22 metres (24 yd) from the goal line. [7]

Stricter rules apply to the pitch size for matches between national representative teams. The same maximums apply in this case, but the distance between the two try-lines must also be at least 94 metres (103 yd) and the pitch must be at least 68 metres (74 yd) wide. [8]


Another key difference is the goal posts. Rugby union posts consists of two posts with a crossbar but without a net, whereas association football goalposts consists of two posts with crossbar and a net. The area above the crossbar is used for scoring only in rugby union, whereas in association football, only the area below the crossbar is used for scoring.

The goal posts in association football are narrower and the crossbar is lower. The goalposts of rugby union extend far above the crossbar.

Association football

Association football goal Football goal 20050521.jpg
Association football goal

In association football, the goal is the only method of scoring. It is also used to refer to the scoring structure. A deliberate attempt on goal is referred to as a "shot". To score a goal, the ball must pass completely over the goal line between the goal posts and under the crossbar and no rules may be violated on the play (such as touching the ball with the hand or arm). [9] See also offside. The goal structure is defined as a frame 24 feet (7.32 m) wide by 8 feet (2.44 m) tall. In most organised levels of play a net is attached behind the goal frame to catch the ball and indicate that a goal has been scored; but the Laws of the Game do not mandate the use of a net and only require that any net used not interfere with the goalkeeper. [10]

Rugby union

Eden Park in Auckland, with rugby union goalposts in foreground 2005 Tri Nations Series - All Blacks vs Wallabies.jpg
Eden Park in Auckland, with rugby union goalposts in foreground

In rugby union, the try is seen as the main method of scoring, with additional means being to kick the goal between the two bars for a drop goal or a conversion after a try.

A goal is scored in either rugby code by place kicking or drop kicking a ball over a crossbar and between goal posts. In rugby union, a goal scored from the field either as a drop kick during normal play or a place kick after a foul scores three points. In rugby league, a goal scored from the field as a drop kick scores one point, and a goal from a place kick after a foul scores two points. In both codes, a goal scored by place kick after a try (a conversion) scores two points. [11] The kick is taken from a position that is back in line from where the try was scored giving an incentive for teams to try and score near to the centre such that the kick is more attainable. Rugby league goal posts are generally "H" shaped, 5.5 metres in width, with the cross bar three metres from the ground [12]

Football as used in association football

The Adidas Telstar became the standard design for representing footballs in different media Football Pallo valmiina-cropped.jpg
The Adidas Telstar became the standard design for representing footballs in different media

Law 2 of the game specifies that the ball is an air-filled sphere with a circumference of 68–70 cm (27–28 in), a weight of 410–450 g (14–16 oz), inflated to a pressure of 0.6 to 1.1  atmospheres (60–111 kPa or 8.7–16.1 psi) "at sea level", and covered in leather or "other suitable material". [13] The weight specified for a ball is the dry weight, as older balls often became significantly heavier in the course of a match played in wet weather. The standard ball is a Size 5, although smaller sizes exist: Size 3 is standard for team handball and Size 4 in futsal and other small-field variants. Other sizes are used in underage games or as novelty items.

Most modern footballs are stitched from 32 panels of waterproofed leather or plastic: 12 regular pentagons and 20 regular hexagons. The 32-panel configuration is the spherical polyhedron corresponding to the truncated icosahedron; it is spherical because the faces bulge from the pressure of the air inside. The first 32-panel ball was marketed by Select in the 1950s in Denmark. This configuration became common throughout Continental Europe in the 1960s, and was publicised worldwide by the Adidas Telstar, the official ball of the 1970 World Cup.

The familiar 32-panel football design is sometimes referenced to describe the truncated icosahedron Archimedean solid, carbon buckyballs or the root structure of geodesic domes.

There are a number of different types of football balls depending on the match and turf including: training footballs, match footballs, professional match footballs, beach footballs, street footballs, indoor footballs, turf balls, futsal footballs and mini/skills footballs. [14]

Rugby union ball

Rugby ball (manufactured by Mitre) used by the Italy national team Palla da Rugby.png
Rugby ball (manufactured by Mitre) used by the Italy national team

Rugby union uses an oval ball (a prolate spheroid). This makes a difference in the variety and style of kicking. Rugby union is capable of producing a diverse range of kicking styles.

The ball used in rugby union, usually referred to as a rugby ball, is a prolate spheroid essentially elliptical in profile. Traditionally made of brown leather, modern footballs are manufactured in a variety of colours and patterns. A regulation football is 28–30 cm (11–12 in) long and 58–62 cm (23–24 in) in circumference at its widest point. It weighs 410–460 g (14–16 oz) and is inflated to 65.7–68.8 kPa (9.5–10.0 psi). [15]

In 1980, leather-encased balls, which were prone to water-logging, were replaced with balls encased in synthetic waterproof materials. The Gilbert Synergie was the match ball of the 2007 Rugby World Cup.


A rugby union game is divided into two-halves of 40 minutes (or shorter for lower-grade games) separated by a half time period of up to 15 minutes in an international match. Most notably, a rugby union game will continue after the scheduled end of a half (half-time or full-time) until the ball becomes dead – any occurrence that would have play restart with a scrum or line-out, or when a team scores. This has led to some 'nail-biting' finishes where teams losing by only a small margin work their way towards scoring, and games can go on several minutes over time. The clock is also stopped during substitutions and for injuries, so the referee does not need to add stoppage time.

Advancing the ball and passing

In both games, players must dispose of the ball correctly. In rugby union, this can be by hand (passing, or throw in) or by foot. In association football, this can only usually be done by foot (although the goalkeeper can handle the ball).

The term "passing" is used in association football to refer to a ball kicked to another player on the same team, whereas in rugby union it refers to when the ball is passed by hand to another player on the same team.

Both association football and rugby union have an offside rule. In rugby union, it is illegal to throw (pass) the ball in a forward direction: a player in a position to receive such a pass would in most cases be offside anyway. In association football, the ball can be passed backwards or forwards to a player on the same team, so long as the player passed to in front is onside.

Tackles and blocks

Rugby union allows full tackling above the knees and below the shoulders, whereas association football explicitly disallows tackling of that sort. Rugby union rules do not allow tackles above the plane of the shoulders. Only the player who has possession of the ball can be tackled. The attacker must also attempt to wrap his or her arms around the player being tackled: merely pushing the player being tackled to ground with a shoulder is illegal. If a maul or ruck is formed, a player may not "ram" into the formation without first binding to the players.


Rugby union is played between two teams – the one that scores more points wins the game. Points can be scored in several ways: a try, scored by grounding the ball in the in-goal area (between the goal line and the dead ball line), is worth 5 points and a subsequent conversion kick scores 2 points; a successful penalty kick or a drop goal each score 3 points. [16] The values of each of these scoring methods have been changed over the years. [17]


There is no goalkeeper in rugby union, instead there is a fullback, although the fullback in rugby union is not required to guard a goal in the same way that a goalkeeper does. A rugby union fullback generally fields the long range kicks, and makes long range attacks.

Rugby union allows a maximum of 15 players per side on the field at any one time; in the instance of association football, a maximum of 11 players per side is allowed on the field at any one time. These numbers may be reduced through players being sent off, or injuries without replacements. (The latter only tends to occur in the lower levels of each sport)

International competition

The Scottish rugby side of 1871, which beat England by one try in the first international match ever Scotland rugbyteam 1871.jpg
The Scottish rugby side of 1871, which beat England by one try in the first international match ever

Both international association football and international rugby union share at least one thing in common. The original international games of each code were between Scotland and England in the early 1870s.

Rugby union has been an international game since 1871, when Scotland beat England at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh. Ireland entered international competition in 1875, and have played matches continuously ever since. The Rugby World Cup (RWC) itself is of much more recent origin, dating back to 1987, when invitations were sent out to various national sides. Entry has been through qualifying rounds ever since.

The first official international football match took place in 1872 between Scotland and England in Glasgow, again at the instigation of C. W. Alcock. The FIFA World Cup, often simply the World Cup, is an international association football competition contested by the senior men's national teams of the members of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport's global governing body. The championship has been awarded every four years since the inaugural tournament in 1930, except in 1942 and 1946 when it was not held because of the Second World War.

Variants and casual play

Beach Rugby match Spielszene BK.jpg
Beach Rugby match

Variants of association football have been codified for reduced-sized teams (i.e. Five-a-side football), for play in non-field environments (i.e. Beach soccer, Indoor soccer, and Futsal) and for teams with disabilities (i.e. Paralympic association football).

Variants of rugby union have been codified for reduced-sized teams (i.e. rugby sevens, rugby tens), for youth training (i.e. mini rugby) for play in non-field environments (i.e. beach rugby and snow rugby) and for teams with disabilities (i.e. quad rugby).

Rugby league is a separate code from rugby union, but arose from the same game due to disputes over payment. Both rugby league and rugby union still share many elements in common, and may be confused by a casual spectator.

Related Research Articles

Gaelic football Irish team sport, form of football derived from traditional Irish ball games

Gaelic football, commonly referred to as football or Gaelic, is an Irish team sport. It is played between two teams of 15 players on a rectangular grass pitch. The objective of the sport is to score by kicking or punching the ball into the other team's goals or between two upright posts above the goals and over a crossbar 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) above the ground.

Futsal Ballgame-team sport, variant of association football

Futsal is a variant of association football played on a hard court, smaller than a football pitch, and mainly indoors. It can be considered a version of five-a-side football.

Goal (sport) method of scoring in many sports

In sports, a goal is a physical structure or area where an attacking team must send the ball or puck in order to score points. In several sports, a goal is the sole method of scoring, and thus the final score is expressed in the total number of goals scored by each team. In other sports, a goal may be one of several scoring methods, and thus may be worth a different set number of points than the others.

Try way of scoring points in rugby league and rugby union football

A try is a way of scoring points in rugby union and rugby league football. A try is scored by grounding the ball in the opposition's in-goal area. Rugby union and league differ slightly in defining 'grounding the ball' and the 'in-goal' area.

The Laws of the Game (LOTG) are the codified rules that help define association football. They are the only rules of association football subscribed to by FIFA. The laws mention the number of players a team should have, the game length, the size of the field and ball, the type and nature of fouls that referees may penalise, the frequently misinterpreted offside law, and many other laws that define the sport. During a match, it is the task of the referee to interpret and enforce the Laws of the Game.

Beach soccer football played in beach

Beach Soccer, also known as beach football, sand football or beasal, is a variant of association football played on a beach or some form of sand.

Football pitch playing surface for the game of association football

A football pitch is the playing surface for the game of association football. Its dimensions and markings are defined by Law 1 of the Laws of the Game, "The Field of Play". The surface can either be natural or artificial. Artificial surfaces must be green in colour. The pitch is typically made of turf (grass) or artificial turf, although amateur and recreational teams often play on dirt fields.

Goal kick method of restarting play in association football

A goal kick, called a goalie kick in some regions, is a method of restarting play in a game of association football. Its procedure is dictated by Law 16 of the Laws of the Game.

Comparison of American football and rugby union

A comparison of American football and rugby union is possible because of the games' shared origins, despite their dissimilarities.

A comparison between American football and rugby league is possible because of their shared origins and similar game concepts. Rugby league is arguably the most similar sport to American football after Canadian football: both sports involve the concept of a limited number of downs/tackles and scoring touchdowns/tries takes clear precedence over goal-kicking.

Drop goal method of scoring points in rugby, scored by drop-kicking the ball over the crossbar and between the goalposts

A drop goal, field goal, dropped goal, or pot is a method of scoring points in rugby union and rugby league and also, rarely, in American football and Canadian football. A drop goal is scored by drop kicking the ball over the crossbar and between the goalposts. After the kick, the ball must not touch the ground before it goes over and through, although it may touch the crossbar. If the drop goal attempt is successful, play stops and the non-scoring team restarts play with a kick from halfway. If the kick is unsuccessful, the offside rules for a kick apply and play continues until a normal stoppage occurs. Because of the scoring attempt this is usually from the kicked ball going dead or into touch. Defenders may tackle the kicker while he is in possession of the ball, or attempt to charge down or block the kick.

Comparison of Gaelic football and Australian rules football

The comparision between Australian rules football and Gaelic football is the subject of controversy among historians. The question of whether the two codes of football, from Australia and Ireland respectively, have shared origins arises due to similar styles of play in both games.

This list of rugby league terms is a general glossary of the terminology used in the sport of rugby league football. The sport has accrued a considerable amount of jargon to describe aspects of the game. Many terms originate from the Laws of the Game. A number of aspects of the game have more than one term that refers to them. Different terms have become popularly used to describe an aspect of the game in different places with notable differences between the northern and southern hemispheres.

A comparison of Canadian football and rugby union is possible because of the games' shared origins, despite their dissimilarities.

Laws of rugby union

The laws of Rugby Union are defined by World Rugby and dictate how the game should be played. They are enforced by a referee, generally with the help of two assistant referees.

Comparison of Gaelic football and rugby union

A comparison of Gaelic football and rugby union is possible because of certain similarities between the codes, as well as the numerous dissimilarities.

Scoring in association football

In games of association football teams compete to score the most goals during the match. A goal is scored when the ball passes completely over a goal line at each end of the field of play between two centrally positioned upright goal posts 24 feet (7.32 m) apart and underneath a horizontal crossbar at a height of 8 feet (2.44 m) — this frame is also referred to as a goal. Each team aims to score at one end of the pitch, while also preventing their opponents scoring at the other. Nets are usually attached to the goal frame to catch goalscoring balls, but the ball is not required to touch the net.

Comparison of association football and futsal

Futsal began in the 1930s in South America as a version of association football, taking elements of its parent game into an indoor format so players could still play during inclement weather. Over the years, both sports have developed, creating a situation where the two sports share common traits while also hosting various differences.


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