Rugby League vs Rugby Union: 6 Key Differences

rugby league vs rugby union header image sketch
Rugby, in both codes, is a much loved and viewed sport requiring strength and athleticism from players. It has huge viewing audiences too for both union and league. But what are the main differences between rugby league and rugby union? Let's take a look.

Contents

Rugby, a sport beloved by many across the globe, comes in two distinct flavours: Rugby League and Rugby Union. Though they share a common ancestry and many similarities, there are key differences that set them apart. Let’s dive into these differences, shedding light on each variation of this thrilling sport.

1. Team Size

Rugby Union: The Bigger Gathering

In Rugby Union, each team fields 15 players, creating a game that emphasises strategic positioning and endurance. The additional players often lead to more rucks and mauls, characteristic elements of Union’s gameplay.

Rugby League: Compact and Fast

Rugby League teams consist of 13 players per side. This reduction in numbers typically results in a faster, more open style of play. The lesser number allows for more space on the field, often leading to higher scoring games.

2. Tackling and Play-the-Ball

Union’s Ruck and Maul

After a tackle in Rugby Union, a ruck or maul can form. This is where the real contest for possession occurs, with players binding together to push against the opposing team, trying to win the ball.

League’s Play-the-Ball

In Rugby League, following a tackle, the tackled player performs a ‘play-the-ball’, rolling the ball back to a teammate with their foot. This rule leads to a quicker recycling of the ball, keeping the game pacey and dynamic.

3. Scoring

Union’s Varied Points

In Rugby Union, a try is worth five points, a conversion two, a penalty goal three, and a dropped goal three. This diverse point system influences the strategic decisions teams make during the game.

League’s Streamlined Scoring

Rugby League simplifies scoring: four points for a try, two for a conversion, and two for a penalty or drop goal. This system encourages teams to focus more on tries, the most valuable score.

4. Set Pieces

Union’s Complexity

Rugby Union is known for its complex set pieces, like lineouts and scrums. These set pieces are not only ways to restart play but also strategic opportunities for teams to showcase strength and skill.

League’s Simplified Approach

 Rugby League simplifies scrums and does away with lineouts. The scrums are less contested and more of a formality, speeding up the game and placing the emphasis back on open play.

5. Pitch Size

There are some slight variations in pitch size between the two rugby codes:

  • Rugby League Pitch: 112 – 122m x 68m
    Rugby Union Pitch: 144m x 70m

 

6. Professional and Amateur Status

Union’s Recent Professionalism: Historically, Rugby Union was an amateur sport, only turning professional in the mid-1990s. This shift has brought about changes in training, playing styles, and the sport’s overall commercial aspect.

League’s Earlier Professional Era: Rugby League turned professional much earlier, back in 1895. This early professionalism has influenced the sport’s development, leading to a different approach in player development and game style.

Got a favourite?

We reckon most rugby fans will favour one over the other. Both have incredibly well viewed tournaments and leagues though. However, one accolade Union does take is having the most attended sporting event in the world. Yep, you read that right, according to statistics by UEFA, Union’s Six Nations Championship is the most attended sporting event globally.

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