Differences between rugby and football

Written by: Gary Gershman

The London Saracens, a professional rugby team, trained at the Miami Dolphins training facility on NSU’s campus during the week of April 4. Gary Gershman, J.D., Ph.D., is an associate professor of history and legal studies in the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences and a rugby player. He explains the differences between rugby and football.

Crashing bodies, hard tackles, exciting break away runs, the ultimate team sport — football? No way — rugby!  As the London Saracens train at the Miami Dolphins training facility located on NSU’s campus, you might wonder who are these people and what are they doing?

Rugby is football’s cousin.  Rugby was born at the Rugby Boy’s school in England in 1823.  Legend has it that during a game of soccer, Web Ellis picked up the ball and began to run with it — and rugby was born.  Eventually, the Rugby Football Union was formed to solidify the rules and the sport grew.

In America, a game resembling rugby developed at colleges like Princeton and Harvard.  After the Civil War, colleges began to organize themselves, and led by Princeton, established rules for the game, later called American football.

One of the first big differences between rugby and American football is the number of players on the field, 15 in rugby and 11 in American football.  In its early days American football was such a brutal sport that several colleges banned it.  Rule changes began to take place including shrinking the field and creating downs. In rugby, the play is continuous.

American football instituted blocking which was a radical difference from rugby, where blocking is a penalty. The ball carrier is always the lead person in rugby. Perhaps the greatest rule change from rugby to American Football was the implementation of the forward pass. In rugby, one cannot pass the ball forward, only backwards.

Both games are incredibly physical — American football is often perceived as more violent, but rugby as far more rougher (no pads). Rugby developed in the private schools of England and was originally amateurs only, even at the highest level.  It is only recently that players have begun to get paid and only at the elite levels.  Teams like the visiting Saracens are professionals and get paid handsomely.

Because of these roots, numer-ous parts of the game reflect its “gentleman’s” origins. For example, after every game both teams line up and shake hands, only the captain may speak to the officials,  referring to him as sir, and the home team always hosts a party,  because as gentlemen you leave your differences on the field. (When I played in England, this sometimes meant a tie and a jacket and formal sit down dinner after the game.)

As someone who started play-ing rugby in his early teens, I take great pride in the fact that I don’t wear pads.   I play the whole game,  offense and defense.   Playing for Media RFC, I had the opportunity to play in England, Ireland and Scotland. And American football players, including pros, respected what I did and often said there was no way they would step on that field.

Still interested?  Fort Lauderdale has a rugby club, Miami has two and Boca Raton has one.  There is a women’s team (Fort Miami) and multiple high school clubs in the area.
For more information about local rugby check out Fort Lauderdale Rugby Club at http://ftlrugby.com or www.ftlwomensrugby.com.

Leave a Reply