What’s the difference between Rugby Union and League?

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As we know, there are two different types of Rugby, Rugby League, and Rugby Union. These games may seem similar but are completely different in terms of tactics, game management, and playing styles. Here, we’ll go over both forms of Rugby highlighting the key differences and similarities along the way.

In 1871, the Rugby Football Union was formed which was in place to regulate what could happen in the game of Rugby. Their reluctance to go professional, however, forced many players to form their own code with teams in Yorkshire going against the rules and paying working-class players as they wanted to compensate them for missing work. Today, Rugby Union is more popular in the South of England whereas Rugby League is more popular in the North of the country.

Different rules

The main on-field difference between League and Union is the fact that Rugby League is played with 13 players whereas Rugby Union is played with 15 players. Add this to the fact that you can make 10 substitutions in Rugby League whereas you can make only 8 in Union. The more substitutions means you can play for longer and the fitness level stays high which means more high-impact collisions and unfortunately, more injuries. The pitch is also smaller in Rugby League due to the fact that there are fewer players.

Points are awarded differently in each code too, in Rugby Union a try will give you 5 points, a conversion will give you 2 points and penalties and drop goals will give you 3 points apiece. However, in Rugby League, a try is only worth 4 points, a conversion is worth 2 points, penalties are 2 points and drop goals are one point.


In Rugby Union, once a player is tackled, a ruck forms when a player from each side joins in to contest for the ball. However, in Rugby League, these do not exist. Instead, once a player is tackled, the player must roll the ball back with his feet and a “Chicken Scratch” occurs where a player from each side competes for the ball differently to how they would in Rugby Union.

If the ball is kicked off the field in Rugby League, a scrum will occur where 8 players will pack down to essentially give the backs more space to run into. In Rugby Union, however, if the ball is kicked off the field, a lineout takes place from where the ball crossed the touchline. In Rugby League, there is a tackle limit meaning one team can only be tackled 6 times before that team must give possession of the ball to the opposition usually by kicking it to them. In Rugby Union, there is no tackle limit and teams have gone 30 maybe even 40 phases in the past without giving up the ball.

However, in both forms of Rugby, tackling is the same, the ball is the same and the aim of the game is the same. Both codes include scoring tries and having the same physicality required to win.

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