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Although rugby and football have some similarities, inherent distinctions separate the two sports into vastly different arenas. Both rugby and football involve a ball and players working to move it up and down a field. Both sports also involve full contact between players as they strive to advance the ball for their respective teams. However, the sport of rugby is comparatively more simple than football thanks to fewer rules and less strategy. A rugby game is also shorter than a football game, at just 60 minutes of nonstop play. Rugby involves strenuous exercise as players play continually to score points.


Rugby dates back to ancient England. Neighboring towns would assemble teams of men to throw and kick an inflated pig's bladder. Initially, ruling monarchs disapproved of rugby due to the violence and destruction that typically occurred during games. Consequently, rugby was banned and became illegal to play. Eventually, players modified the game to make it less objectionable, and rugby caught on at boy's schools in England during the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1823, during a game at Rugby School, William Webb Ellis grabbed the ball and ran toward a goal, purportedly for the first time in the history of the game. This event changed the course of rugby history, as players began running with the ball to score.


Initially, the rules of rugby varied between the different schools playing the game. As students graduated from school and continued playing rugby, rugby clubs were created. Rules tended to be informal, but players eventually recognized the need for formal rugby rules, so they created them. Players created the first standardized rugby rules in 1871.

Rugby teams consist of 15 players. A rugby game involves two timed halves, wherein players participate continually unless a referee stops the game due to an injury. Players work to score points in several different ways, including "tries," "conversions," and "drop goals." Penalties can also occur, which could result in the other team receiving a penalty kick to earn more points. Passing the ball between players must occur only laterally or backwards; players can never pass the ball forward. Full contact is permissible during rugby games as players vie for the ball.

Rugby Ball

The rugby ball is an oval shape. Rugby was originally played with inflated pig bladders, which are roughly oval in shape. Original rugby balls were likely larger and rounder than the balls used for rugby today. For many years, rugby balls were made out of leather. Current balls are made out of advanced synthetic materials that maintain their shape and balance regardless of weather conditions and game events. Rugby balls have a length of between 280 and 300 mm, depending on the league. The long circumference of a rugby ball ranges between 740 and 770 mm. The short circumference of a rugby ball ranges between 580 and 620 mm.

World Cups

Every four years, the Rugby World Cup tournament is held between the best international men's rugby teams. The Rugby World Cup in 2011 was won by New Zealand. The first Rugby World Cup competition was held in 1987. World Rugby is the international governing group that oversees the Rugby World Cup competition. To participate in the Rugby World Cup, some teams enter the competition through a process of automatic qualification based on performance during previous tournaments. Other teams can qualify with participation in tournaments held specifically for World Cup qualification.

More Information

Women also participate in the sport of rugby. An international women's rugby union was established in 1982. More than 40 nations have women's rugby teams competing on an international level. In 1991, the first Women's Rugby World Cup was held, and the United States won this World Cup competition. The Women's Rugby World Cup competition occurs every four years.

Because children also enjoy this form of exercise, variations of rugby have been created for younger players. A non-contact version of rugby involves simply touching opponents with two hands instead of tackling players on the opposite team. Tag rugby is another version of the game, in which players cannot kick the ball. Additional game variations involve playing on the beach or in the snow.