Difference Between Rugby League & Rugby Union
When William Webb-Ellis bent down, picked up the ball and started running towards his opponents’ goal in a game of school football, little did he know he would go on to essentially establish the sport of rugby – named after the town in which he was raised.
It has never been confirmed or denied if Webb-Ellis invented rugby, which existed as a single entity until the late 1800s when teams from the north of England met to form the Northern Rugby Football Union in protest of the Rugby Football Union’s (RFU) decision not to reimburse players for lost earnings when playing the sport instead of working.
The sport became divided largely on geographical grounds, and because the Northern Rugby Football Union was said to be a ‘league’ the competition was renamed as the Northern Rugby Football League. The split was confirmed, and two distinct codes of rugby were born.
“Bond Rugby” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by KRB events
There are differences in the rules of rugby league and union, while the physical attributes between the players tend to be different too. League, which is an end-to-end, almost breathless sport, requires its players to be strong but also boast incredible stamina.
Union, on the other hand, is a more stop-start, tactical sport, with different physical characteristics for the different positions on the pitch. Prop forwards are short and stocky, second row and flankers tend to be tall (for winning the ball in the lineout) and wingers should be able to cover the ground quickly both in defence and attack.
The key differences though are in the rules, and it is in the nuances of these that the key distinctions arise.
Points Make Prizes
The fundamental difference between league and union is in the number of points awarded for each scoring play. In league, a try is rewarded with four points whereas in union five points are earned for crossing the whitewash. As for penalties, it’s two points in league and three in union, while drop goals earn one and three points respectively.
As such, rugby league tends to be more try-orientated, which leads to higher scoring games. It also highlights disparities between two teams that aren’t evenly matched, which is why betting on the sport is so popular. Indeed, a look at the latest Super League rugby league odds – which is the code’s primary competition – reveals that there are clear favourites for each of the opening weekend matches so there should be some high scoring games.
Both codes split their teams into forwards and backs, and their roles are different in league and union. In the former, the forwards are responsible for carrying the ball and the backs for creating scoring opportunities, and while the same principle applies in union the forwards tend to have a far more strategic role to play in attack.
In rugby league, when a player is tackled to the floor you will notice that they stand up and roll the back backwards to a teammate with the bottom of their foot. This is one passage of play and known as a ‘tackle’, and the team in possession has six tackles in which to score or gain territory. If they are near their opponents’ try-line, they may attempt something creative like an up and under or grubber kick to score a try.
In rugby union, there is no tackle count, and so theoretically one team can keep possession of the ball indefinitely. When a player is tackled in union a ruck or maul is formed, where both sets of forwards attempt to wrestle possession of the ball back.
And lastly, we should mention the scrum, which is an integral part of rugby union and where forward ‘packs’ can assert their dominance over the other. In rugby league, scrums are largely uncontested, and simply a means of starting a new passage of play.
While league and union are still separated by geography in the UK, you can certainly enjoy both codes of the sport for the unique distinctions that they bring and the excitement they routinely deliver.