League vs. Union

What's the Difference?

League and Union are two popular forms of rugby that have distinct differences. In League, there are 13 players on each team, while Union has 15 players. League is known for its fast-paced and high-scoring nature, with a focus on attacking plays and quick ball movement. On the other hand, Union is often seen as a more strategic and physical game, with a greater emphasis on set pieces and scrums. Additionally, League has a limited number of tackles before possession is turned over, whereas Union allows for continuous play. Despite these differences, both League and Union share a common goal of scoring tries and showcasing the skill, athleticism, and teamwork of the players.


Photo by David Bayliss on Unsplash
OriginNorthern England in the late 19th centuryEngland in the early 19th century
Number of Players13 players per team15 players per team
BallOval-shaped ballOval-shaped ball
ScoringTry (5 points), goal kick (2 points), penalty kick (2 points)Try (5 points), conversion kick (2 points), penalty kick (3 points)
Forward PassNot allowedNot allowed
ScrumsNon-contested scrumsContested scrums
LineoutsNot presentPresent
TacklingCan tackle above the waistMust tackle below the waist
Duration80 minutes80 minutes
International Governing BodyInternational Rugby League (IRL)World Rugby (formerly International Rugby Board)
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Further Detail


Rugby is a sport that has two main variations: Rugby League and Rugby Union. While both sports share similarities, they also have distinct differences that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the attributes of League and Union, highlighting their unique features, rules, and strategies.

Playing Field and Team Structure

In terms of the playing field, both League and Union share the same dimensions. The field is rectangular, with goalposts at each end. However, the team structure differs between the two sports. In Rugby League, each team consists of 13 players, while in Rugby Union, there are 15 players on each team. This difference in player numbers affects the dynamics and strategies employed by the teams.

Scoring System

Another significant difference between League and Union lies in their scoring systems. In Rugby League, a try is worth 4 points, and a successful conversion kick adds 2 points. Additionally, penalty goals and field goals are worth 2 points each. On the other hand, in Rugby Union, a try is worth 5 points, and a successful conversion kick adds 2 points. Penalty goals and drop goals are worth 3 points each. These variations in scoring systems can influence the overall gameplay and strategies employed by the teams.

Tackling and Rucking

Tackling and rucking are fundamental aspects of both League and Union. However, the rules and techniques differ between the two sports. In Rugby League, a player can be tackled six times before the ball is turned over to the opposing team. After a tackle, the attacking team forms a scrum, and the ball is played between the legs of the players. In Rugby Union, a player can be tackled as many times as necessary, and after a tackle, a ruck is formed, where players from both teams compete for the ball on the ground. These differences in tackling and rucking rules impact the flow and tempo of the game.

Set Pieces and Scrums

Set pieces, such as scrums, are crucial moments in both League and Union. However, the scrum rules differ between the two sports. In Rugby League, scrums are formed after certain rule infringements, and they involve fewer players. The scrum is a means to restart play quickly. On the other hand, in Rugby Union, scrums are a more integral part of the game. They are formed after minor rule infringements, and all eight forwards from each team bind together to contest possession of the ball. The scrum in Union is a strategic battle, with teams aiming to gain an advantage and control the ball.

Lineouts and Mauls

Lineouts and mauls are unique to Rugby Union and play a significant role in the sport. A lineout occurs when the ball goes out of bounds, and players from both teams compete to catch the ball thrown in from the sideline. This creates an opportunity for strategic plays and set-piece moves. In contrast, mauls occur when a player carrying the ball is held by one or more opponents, and teammates bind onto the ball carrier. The maul can be used to gain territory or draw in defenders. These set pieces add complexity and tactical options to Rugby Union.

Substitutions and Interchange

Substitutions and interchange rules also differ between League and Union. In Rugby League, teams are allowed to make a maximum of 10 substitutions throughout the game, with players being able to return to the field after being substituted. This allows for more frequent changes and fresh legs on the field. In Rugby Union, teams are allowed a maximum of 8 substitutions, but once a player is substituted, they cannot return to the field. This difference in substitution rules affects the overall strategy and player management employed by the teams.


In conclusion, while Rugby League and Rugby Union share similarities as contact sports, they have distinct attributes that set them apart. From the team structure and scoring systems to the rules of tackling, set pieces, and substitutions, each sport offers a unique experience for players and fans alike. Whether you prefer the fast-paced action of Rugby League or the strategic battles of Rugby Union, both variations of the sport provide thrilling moments and showcase the physicality and skill required to excel in rugby.

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