Saturday, 13 Jul 2024

What Is the Difference Between Rugby League and Rugby Union?

Rugby Union and Rugby League are two popular sports played worldwide. While originating in the UK, Rugby Union predates Rugby League, with the formation of the RFU (Rugby Football Union) in 1871. However, in 1895, the game split into two when Lancashire and Yorkshire clubs sought compensation for players missing work. The RFU opposed professionalism, leading to the formation of the Northern Union, later known as Rugby League. Over time, both games developed independently with varying rule changes until the RFU embraced professionalism in 1995.


In both Rugby League and Rugby Union, there are several common factors:

  • Aim of the Game: Both forms strive to win by scoring more points than the opposing team through tries, conversions, drop goals, and penalty goals.
  • Scoring: A try is scored when a player touches the ball down beyond the defending team’s goal line. Teams can add two points by successfully converting the try.
  • The Ball: Both codes use the same ovoid ball, which can be advanced through running, kicking, or as the result of a set piece. Passing is allowed sideways or backwards but not forward.
  • Tackling: Only the player carrying the ball can be tackled in both Rugby Union and Rugby League. Play restarts when the ball is transferred to another team member, albeit with slight variations between the codes.
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While there are many similarities, there are also notable differences between Rugby League and Rugby Union:

  • Pitch: Rugby Union pitches can reach a maximum size of 144m x 70m, while Rugby League pitches can be a maximum of 122m x 68m. Despite these slight variations, both codes can generally be played on the same pitches, with some teams sharing stadiums.
  • Players: Rugby Union has 15 players per team on the field, while Rugby League has 13. In both codes, players are divided into forwards and backs.
  • Possession: In Rugby Union, a team can retain possession for as long as they want, while the opposing team tries to take the ball. In Rugby League, however, a team is only allowed to be tackled six times before handing over possession.
  • Tackling: Tackling is generally similar in both codes, but in Rugby League, players can also use their legs to bring down opponents when they have both hands on them. In Rugby Union, the game flows continuously, often forming a ruck to contest the ball.
  • Scoring: Although the ways to score are the same in both codes, there are slight differences in the points awarded. For example, in Rugby Union, a try is worth five points, while in Rugby League, it is worth four. Conversion kicks are worth two points in both codes.
  • Demographic: Rugby Union is often associated with a more middle-class demographic, while Rugby League is seen as a working-class sport, particularly in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia.


Q: Are there any differences in the rules or gameplay between Rugby League and Rugby Union?
A: Yes, there are several differences in the rules and gameplay between Rugby League and Rugby Union. These include variations in the number of players, tackling techniques, possession rules, scoring points, and the demographic perception of the sports.

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Q: Can Rugby League and Rugby Union be played on the same pitches?
A: Yes, Rugby League and Rugby Union can generally be played on the same pitches. Some teams even share stadiums, such as Headingley Stadium in Leeds, which is home to both the Leeds Rhinos (Rugby League) and Leeds Carnegie (Rugby Union).


Rugby Union and Rugby League are distinct, yet interconnected sports. While sharing similarities in terms of gameplay, scoring, and the shape of the ball, there are notable differences in player numbers, tackling techniques, possession rules, scoring points, and demographic perception. Understanding the nuances of these two codes allows fans to appreciate the unique qualities and strategies of both Rugby Union and Rugby League. So whether you prefer the tradition and global reach of Rugby Union or the fast-paced, hard-hitting action of Rugby League, there’s a game for everyone to enjoy. Join us in exploring the thrilling world of rugby and embracing the camaraderie it brings. Visit for more information and to stay up-to-date with the latest in the world of rugby.