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Rugby vs. Football - The Choice Is Easy

Updated: Mar 31

Green sports field with white chalk line. A rugby ball appears in the top left corner vs a football in the lower right corner.
Photo credit: Background-Sandro Schuh via Unsplash

America’s # 1 sport is football. 

We all know this is true… because the Pew Research Center says it’s true.

Apparently, Pew conducted a super important, just gotta know survey in August 2023 asking almost 12,000 adults which sport America is most known for. Over 53% of the respondents said football. [1]

I think we all could have guessed that outcome without the fancy schmancy survey.

Baseball came in a distant second place at 27%. [1]

But what about rugby? How did it rank on this scientific mastery of knowledge?

Well, sadly - Rugby came in with 0.00% of the votes - kind of.

To be fair, rugby wasn’t even an option to choose from.

Fair? That doesn’t seem fair at all. 

In fact…it stinks. 

I think the Research Center put the p-eeww in Pew.  

Then again, how many adults know much about rugby? Obviously, not as many as those who know about football. I certainly never gave rugby a second thought before my son picked up the sport. 

And that’s when everything changed. 

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about the differences between football and rugby.

Rivalries and Brotherhoods

men in blue sports t-shirts and shorts. photo is viewed from the back of the men. several men are wearing orange scrimmage jerseys. One is wearing yellow.
Photo credit: Quino AI via Unsplash

After nearly a decade of nesting along the perimeter of football fields, switching from football to rugby was a surprisingly appealing experience. The social atmosphere was strikingly different between the two battlefields. 

Football games always held a heavy stench of rivalry in the air. Players between teams held grudges with a vengeance - for yeeeears. Parents on both sides of the field became almost barbaric at times. Even parents on the same teams engaged in teenage clique-ish insolent behaviors. 

The parents were basically acting like Nellie Oleson on steroids. 

I used to think the animosity between teams and parents was only an anomaly in our little corner of the football world. But I see similar football fan friction in other areas of the country, including college games and the NFL. 

This is why it was easy for rugby to captivate me.

Rugby is different. 

Rugby is classy.

And the formidable brotherhood of rugby is magnetic

The kinship of rugby is my favorite part of the sport. 

(Anne - with an E - of Green Gables would be proud of the kindred spirits) 

Rugby instills a deep sense of respect and camaraderie among players, even from opposing teams. During the game, they are fierce competitors. But post-match, they’ll likely share a meal, a fair amount of good-natured banter, and a dedication to the sport as a whole. 

Even better yet…the brotherhood extends far beyond the players. 

Parents between teams share their own sense of benevolence and fellowship. The sidelines often become intertwined with opposing team colors as conversations and connections flourish

It's like a big family reunion - minus the awkward small talk, sketchy side dishes, and lunatic uncles. 

Everyone is welcome.

This got me wondering…Do you think the scrum originated as a group hug? 


Okay, probably not. 

Carrying the Ball to Victory

Rugby player laying on ground stretching arms out with a rugby ball to cross the goal line. He's wearing a blue and white striped shirt and white shorts. Another player in a white t-shirt and black shorts is on the ground near the other player.
Photo credit: Quino AI via Unsplash

No matter the sport, most kids want an opportunity to shine.

Each player wants in on the action to grab some of the points.

Everyone wants a hand in the glory of pulling the team to victory.

Football and rugby are noticeably different in who gets to pin those points on the board.


Wilson brand football laying on chalk line with the lacing facing upward
Photo credit: Dave Adamson via Unsplash

Youth football has a hard stop for size/weight restriction. If a player exceeds the chunky-monkey threshold, he’s not allowed to be a ball carrier. 

Tough bananas, kid.

I suppose there’s a good reason for this rule. Some little twiggy kid probably got hurt or someone thought it was unfair that the Hulk plowed his way to the endzone. 

When younger, the pudgy players typically hold positions on the offensive and defensive lines. Their jobs are to block, protect, and tackle. It’s rare that the lineman ever touches the football unless there’s a fumble. 

But what about that husky kid who grows taller and leaner as he matures? You end up with a kid in high school who’s a great physical match for a ball carrier - but he’s missed out on years of experience waiting for his body to agree. 

They become boxed in as linemen. It’s all they really know.

Football coaches tend to rely on seasoned players for scoring positions. Touchdowns, worth six points, are their primary focus for scoring. The star position of the team is the quarterback. The running backs and receivers are also priority positions because they bring the majority of the points scored. Everyone knows the ball needs to find its way into the hands of these vital players to win the game.


A Gilbert brand rugby ball laying on grass surrounded by fall leaves
Photo credit: M. Cooper via Unsplash

This one is easier to explain. Anyone on the rugby team can carry the ball and score points during the game. 


No matter their size.

Period. End of story.

(I suddenly wish I had a Staples easy button)

A ball-carrying score in rugby is called a try and is worth five points. It’s called a try because back in the early days of rugby, crossing the goal line only gave you a 'try' at kicking for extra points. [2]

In one of the first rugby games I went to, I learned about the try. 

I hadn’t known anything for years except for football and touchdowns. My kid was a football lineman. You know - the ones who never touch the ball. 

So here I am at this rugby game. Suddenly, I see my son running with the ball to the endzone. 

He scored! 

Now, people who know me know that I’m not usually one to cheer. I don’t scream obscenities, coach the coach, or badmouth the refs. When I watch the games, I stay quiet. 

But, I was so excited when I saw my son scooping up those game points, I shouted…


A couple of guys standing next to me briefly chuckled and said, “Try.” 


These dolts were obviously blind. Maybe even stupid. 

I was standing next to Dumb and Dumber.

My son performed a monumental accomplishment. Couldn’t they see that?

I did what any braggity, smug, self-righteous mother would do. I jutted my chin up like a pretentious Scarlet O’Hara and proclaimed, “He didn’t just try. He scored a touchdown.” 

The two men paused momentarily before patiently explaining that the score in rugby is called a try, not a touchdown. 


Okay, so they weren’t sightless meatheads after all. 

In fact, they were the epitome of the kindness I described before - an extension of the rugby brotherhood. 

Where's the Armor?

bronze-colored chest and shoulder armor
Photo credit: Nik Shuliahin via Unsplash

I am no different than other parents who want to make sure our kids are as safe as possible from injuries in the sports they play. 

I think I have a healthy balance of “walk it off” and “better go to the hospital” decision-making. 

Football initially seemed like the better choice for safety because of all the padding and helmets the team members wear. 

I wasn’t a “swaddle my kid in bubble wrap” parent. But I sure wasn’t very keen on the thought of my kid playing rugby without all the armor.

But here’s what I’ve learned - pads and helmets often give a false sense of safety. Football players rely on this equipment to go full throttle against their opponents. Even with helmets, concussions are inevitable. 

The effects of concussions are a serious matter. 

No joke.

In September 2023, the National Institutes of Health published a report on a study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Out of 152 brain samples studied, almost half of the samples had signs of CTE. Of those with CTE, nearly 75% were from football players. The rest were from other sports such as hockey, wrestling, soccer, and rugby. [3]

Rugby players don’t wear protective padding or helmets - except for a soft cloth cap known as a scrum cap. This cap is primarily used for protecting a player’s ears, but it’s not required. 

Without the precautionary rigid armor, rugby players rely more on technique and sportsmanship to stay safe.  

That’s not to say that concussions don’t happen in rugby. They certainly do. But maybe not as often because the players don’t wear helmets. 

Plus, the more I watched how the rugby players maneuvered the ball and used proficiency in their movements, the less I was concerned about their gear - or lack of it. 

The Final Score

Black and white photo of rugby players. One player holding the ball is lifted up by the others.
Photo credit: Billy Bobb via Pexels

The choices between sports come with pros and cons. 

I never would have thought I preferred rugby over football. I still like watching both sports. But from a parent’s perspective, I choose rugby as the sport that develops more talent, confidence, character, and community. 

Everyone has their own preferences. I have no doubt that die-hard football barbarians will dispute my assessment. 

But if you’re curious about rugby, I encourage you to take a closer look.

Go to a game.

Feel the brotherhood permeate through the teams and the spectators. 

Soak it in. 

Just don’t yell, “Touchdown!”


[1] Gramlich, J. (2024, February 5). By a wide margin, Americans say football – not baseball – is “America’s sport.” Pew Research Center.

[2] Hathaway, A. (2023, July 3). Why is a try called a try in rugby? - rugby world magazine. Rugby World.

[3] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023, September 19). Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in young athletes. National Institutes of Health.,than%20those%20without%20the%20disease

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