Rugby League vs. Rugby Union

What's the Difference?

Rugby League and Rugby Union are two distinct forms of rugby that differ in various aspects. Firstly, the number of players on the field is different, with Rugby League played with 13 players per team, while Rugby Union has 15 players. Another significant difference lies in the rules and gameplay. Rugby League is known for its fast-paced, continuous action, with fewer set pieces and a greater emphasis on attacking plays. In contrast, Rugby Union involves more strategic elements, with more set pieces, such as scrums and lineouts, and a greater focus on kicking and territorial play. Additionally, the scoring system varies, with Rugby League awarding four points for a try and two points for a conversion, while Rugby Union grants five points for a try and two points for a conversion. Despite these differences, both forms of rugby share a common origin and continue to captivate fans worldwide with their physicality, skill, and teamwork.


AttributeRugby LeagueRugby Union
OriginEngland, 1895England, 1871
Number of Players1315
Field Size100-120m x 68-75m100-144m x 70-75m
ScoringTry (4 points), Goal Kick (2 points), Penalty Kick (2 points)Try (5 points), Conversion Kick (2 points), Penalty Kick (3 points)
Duration80 minutes80 minutes
Forward PassNot allowedNot allowed
Scrums6 players per team8 players per team
LineoutsNot presentPresent
Drop Goal1 point3 points
Professional LeaguesNRL (Australia), Super League (Europe)Premiership Rugby (England), Top 14 (France)

Further Detail


Rugby League and Rugby Union are two popular sports that share a common origin but have evolved into distinct forms over time. While both sports involve a high level of physicality, teamwork, and strategy, there are several key differences that set them apart. In this article, we will explore and compare the attributes of Rugby League and Rugby Union, shedding light on their unique characteristics and highlighting the reasons why fans are drawn to each sport.

Playing Field and Team Structure

In terms of the playing field, both Rugby League and Rugby Union share similarities. They are played on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end. However, the dimensions of the field differ slightly between the two sports. Rugby League fields are typically smaller, measuring 112-122 meters long and 68 meters wide, while Rugby Union fields are larger, ranging from 112-144 meters long and 68-70 meters wide.

Another significant difference lies in the team structure. In Rugby League, each team consists of 13 players, while in Rugby Union, there are 15 players on each team. The additional players in Rugby Union contribute to a more complex and strategic gameplay, as there are more positions to fill and more players to coordinate on the field.

Scoring System

Both Rugby League and Rugby Union have similar scoring systems, with points awarded for tries, conversions, penalties, and drop goals. However, there are some variations in the point values assigned to each scoring method. In Rugby League, a try is worth 4 points, while in Rugby Union, it is worth 5 points. Additionally, the conversion kick after a try is worth 2 points in Rugby League and 2 or 3 points in Rugby Union, depending on the position of the kick.

Furthermore, Rugby Union allows for penalty goals and drop goals to be worth 3 points each, whereas in Rugby League, penalty goals are worth 2 points and drop goals are worth only 1 point. These subtle differences in scoring can have a significant impact on the overall strategy and gameplay of each sport.

Set Pieces and Scrums

Set pieces and scrums are integral parts of both Rugby League and Rugby Union, but they differ in execution and purpose. In Rugby Union, scrums are used to restart play after minor infringements or when the ball becomes unplayable. The forwards from each team bind together and engage in a contest to gain possession of the ball by hooking it back with their feet.

In contrast, Rugby League has fewer scrums and they are primarily used to restart play after more significant infringements. The scrums in Rugby League involve fewer players and are less contested, with the team awarded the scrum feed typically retaining possession of the ball. This difference in scrum dynamics contributes to a faster-paced and more continuous flow of play in Rugby League.

Tackling and Ruck Play

Tackling is a fundamental aspect of both Rugby League and Rugby Union, but the rules and techniques differ slightly. In Rugby Union, players can contest for the ball after a tackle by forming a ruck. The attacking team must release the ball and the defending team can attempt to win possession by driving over the ball and securing it.

In Rugby League, on the other hand, the tackled player must immediately play the ball by rolling it back with their foot. This eliminates the need for rucks and allows for a faster pace of play. The defending team in Rugby League must retreat a specific distance, providing the attacking team with more space and opportunities to exploit.

Substitutions and Interchange

Substitutions and interchange rules also differ between Rugby League and Rugby Union. In Rugby Union, teams are allowed to make a limited number of substitutions, typically up to 8 players, throughout the course of a match. Once a player is substituted, they cannot return to the field.

Rugby League, on the other hand, employs an interchange system that allows for more frequent substitutions. Each team is allowed to make up to 10 interchanges, enabling players to be substituted and then return to the field later in the game. This interchange system in Rugby League provides teams with more flexibility in managing player fatigue and adapting to the flow of the match.


In conclusion, while Rugby League and Rugby Union share a common heritage, they have evolved into distinct sports with their own unique attributes. From the size of the playing field to the team structure, scoring systems, set pieces, tackling techniques, and substitution rules, each sport offers a different experience for players and fans alike.

Whether you prefer the strategic complexity of Rugby Union or the fast-paced action of Rugby League, both sports provide thrilling displays of athleticism, teamwork, and skill. Ultimately, the choice between Rugby League and Rugby Union comes down to personal preference and the specific qualities that resonate with each individual.

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