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Rugby League and Rugby Union are two distinct codes of rugby that originated from a common ancestry. Rugby Union was initially played by amateurs in England, while Rugby League was played by paid working-class individuals.

Over time, these two codes have developed different sets of rules, although they still share many similarities. Rugby Union is more popular in terms of participation and viewership compared to Rugby League. There are various reasons for this, including political factors and government interventions.

Despite the differences, both codes have a rich history and continue to captivate sports enthusiasts around the world.

History And Origins

The Rugby League and Rugby Union may share a common ancestry, but they have evolved into distinct codes with different rules. Originally, Rugby Union was played by gentlemen amateurs in England, while Rugby League was played by working-class individuals for pay.

Despite the similarities, the two sports have developed their own unique identities over time.

Origins Of Rugby Union

Rugby Union and Rugby League have their roots in a shared history, stemming from the game of rugby football, which originated in England during the 19th century. In its early years, rugby football was played in public schools and universities, primarily by students from privileged backgrounds. This form of the game came to be known as rugby union.

The origins of Rugby Union can be traced back to 1823, when a young student at Rugby School named William Webb Ellis allegedly picked up the ball and ran with it during a game of football, thus deviating from the traditional rules of the sport. This incident gave birth to a new variation of football, which eventually evolved into rugby union.

The formalization of the Rugby Union took place in 1871, when the Rugby Football Union (RFU) was founded in England. The RFU established standardized rules and regulations for the game, paving the way for its growth and popularity in the years to come.

Origins Of Rugby League

The split between the Rugby Union and the Rugby League occurred in 1895, with the Rugby League originating from a dispute over player compensation. At the time, rugby players in the north of England were predominantly working-class individuals who struggled to balance their day jobs with their commitment to the sport.

The Northern Rugby Football Union (later known as the Rugby Football League) was formed as a breakaway body from the RFU with the aim of offering financial compensation to players for lost wages. This development led to the creation of a separate code of rugby known as the Rugby League.

Initially, the Rugby League adhered to similar rules to the Rugby Union, but over time it developed its own distinct set of regulations. One of the major differences between the two codes is the introduction of the ‘play-the-ball’ rule in the Rugby League, where the ball carrier is tackled and then must play the ball with their foot. This rule was implemented to increase the pace of the game and create more opportunities for open play.

Unlike Rugby Union, which is widely played and followed internationally, Rugby League has primarily remained popular in northern England, Australia, and some Pacific Island nations. While the split between the two codes created separate competitions and fan bases, the shared history and origins of Rugby Union and Rugby League continue to influence both sports to this day.

Rules And Gameplay

Rugby League and Rugby Union are two distinct forms of rugby, each with its own set of rules and gameplay. While they share some similarities, they have developed different variations over time. Understanding the differences in rules and gameplay is essential for anyone interested in these two exciting sports.

Rules Of Rugby Union

In Rugby Union, the game is played with 15 players on each team, and the objective is to score points by either carrying the ball over the opponent’s try line or kicking it between the uprights. Here are some key rules of rugby union:

  1. Forward Pass: In Rugby Union, a forward pass is not allowed. The ball must always be passed backward or laterally.
  2. Scrum: When the ball goes out of bounds or there is a minor infraction, a scrum is formed. This involves eight players from each team locking arms and pushing against each other to gain possession of the ball.
  3. Rucks and mauls: Rucks and mauls occur when the player carrying the ball is tackled. In rugby union, players from both teams bind together, forming a ruck or maul, while the ball is contested.
  4. Lineouts: Lineouts occur when the ball goes out of bounds. Players from both teams line up, and one player throws the ball between them. The team that throws the ball in usually has the advantage.

Rules Of Rugby League

Rugby League, on the other hand, is played with 13 players on each team. The objective is to score points by either carrying the ball over the opponent’s touchline or kicking it between the uprights. The rules of the Rugby League differ in several ways:

  1. Direct Tackle: In the Rugby League, a direct tackle is allowed. This means that when a player is in possession of the ball, opposing players can tackle them directly, even without the need for a ruck or maul.
  2. Scrums and Lineouts: Unlike rugby union, scrums and lineouts are not contested in the Rugby League. When the ball goes out of bounds or there is a minor infraction, the opposing team is awarded possession with a scrum.
  3. Six Tackles: The Rugby League is played in a more fast-paced manner, with teams given six tackles to advance the ball. If they fail to do so, possession is turned over to the other team.
  4. Play the Ball: In the Rugby League, after a tackle is made and the player is brought to the ground, they must quickly stand up, place the ball on the ground, and play it with their foot. This allows for a faster pace and continuous play.

These are just a few key differences in the rules and gameplay between Rugby League and Rugby Union. Each form of rugby has its own unique strategies and tactics, making them both exciting and dynamic sports to watch and play.

Team Structure And Positions

When it comes to the game of rugby, there are two distinct codes that are widely known – Rugby Union and Rugby League. While both codes share a common origin, they have evolved over time and developed different sets of rules. One aspect in which these codes differ is their team structure and positions. Let’s explore the team structure in Rugby Union and Rugby League to understand the contrasting dynamics of these two codes.

Team Structure In Rugby Union

In rugby union, a team consists of 15 players on the field, divided into two main units: the forwards and the backs. The forwards, also known as the pack, typically consist of players numbered one to eight. Their main role is to secure possession of the ball during scrums, lineouts, and rucks, as well as provide a strong defensive line. The backs numbered nine to 15, are responsible for the attacking plays, passing the ball, and scoring tries.

Here’s a breakdown of the positions in Rugby Union:

  • Props (Number 1 and 3): These players provide stability and strength in the scrums.
  • Hooker (Number 2): The hooker throws the ball into the lineouts and is also involved in the scrums.
  • Locks (Number 4 and 5): The locks secure the ball during lineouts and provide physicality in the forward pack.
  • Flankers (Number 6 and 7): These players are known for their defensive skills and ability to disrupt the opposition’s play.
  • Number 8: Positioned at the back of the scrum, the number 8 controls the ball and initiates attacking moves.
  • Scrum-half (Number 9) – The scrum-half is responsible for distributing the ball from the scrum and initiating attacking plays.
  • Fly-half (Number 10) – The fly-half is the playmaker, directing the team’s attack and making strategic decisions.
  • Centers (Number 12 and 13) – The centers have a dual role of creating attacking opportunities and defending against the opposition’s attacks.
  • Wingers (Number 11 and 14) – Positioned on the edges of the field, the wingers are known for their speed and finishing ability.
  • Fullback (Number 15): The fullback is responsible for covering the backfield, catching high balls, and initiating counter-attacks.

Team Structure In Rugby League

In contrast, the Rugby League follows a slightly different team structure. A Rugby League team consists of 13 players on the field, with a focus on fast-paced gameplay and quick ball movement. Unlike rugby union, rugby league does not have distinct forward and back positions.

  • Props: These players provide strength and stability in the scrums and are also involved in the tackle.
  • Hooker: Similar to rugby union, the hooker is responsible for initiating play from the base of the scrum.
  • Second Rowers: Positioned on the edges of the scrum, these players provide aggression and skill in both attack and defense.
  • Lock/Loose Forward: Similar to the number 8 in Rugby Union, the lock or loose forward controls the ball from the base of the scrum and directs the team’s attack.
  • Halfbacks: These players are the playmakers in the Rugby League, responsible for distributing the ball and creating attacking opportunities.
  • Centers: Positioned for both attack and defense, the centers provide a balance of passing skills and strong tackling.
  • Wingers: Similar to rugby union,  wingers are known for their speed and ability to finish tries.
  • Fullback: The fullback covers the backfield, catching high balls and initiating counter-attacks.

To summarize, while both Rugby Union and Rugby League have team structures and positions, they differ in terms of the number of players on the field and the specific roles assigned to each position. Understanding the unique dynamics of each code can deepen your appreciation for the game of rugby as a whole.

Competition Formats

When it comes to rugby, there are two main versions that dominate the sport: – Rugby Union and the Rugby League. While they share a common origin, these two codes have evolved over time and developed distinct competition formats. In this article, we will explore the competition formats in both Rugby Union and Rugby League, highlighting the key differences and what sets them apart.

Competition Formats In Rugby Union

Rugby Union follows several competition formats that provide an exciting and diverse experience for both players and fans. Here are some of the main competition formats in rugby union:

  1. International Test Matches: This format involves national teams competing against each other in a series of matches to determine the best team in the world. One of the most prestigious tournaments in rugby union is the Rugby World Cup, held every four years.
  2. Domestic Leagues: Rugby Union has various domestic leagues around the world, such as the Gallagher Premiership in England, the Top 14 in France, and the Super Rugby in the southern hemisphere. These leagues consist of professional club teams vying for the top spot in their respective countries.
  3. Club Competitions: In addition to domestic leagues, there are also club competitions like the European Rugby Champions Cup and the European Rugby Challenge Cup. These tournaments bring together the top club teams from different countries to compete for continental glory.
  4. Sevens Rugby: Sevens Rugby is a fast-paced variant of Rugby Union played with seven players instead of the traditional fifteen. It is known for its dynamic gameplay and is often featured in multi-sport events like the Olympics and the World Rugby Sevens Series.

Competition Formats In Rugby League

While rugby league has fewer competition formats compared to Rugby Union, it still offers an exciting and competitive experience for players and fans. Here are the main competition formats in Rugby League:

  1. National Rugby League (NRL): The NRL is the premier professional league in Australia and features teams from various cities across the country. It follows a regular-season format, with teams competing for a spot in the playoffs and ultimately the grand final.
  2. Super League – The Super League is the top-level professional rugby league competition in Europe. It consists of teams primarily from England, with a few from France and Canada. Similar to the NRL, it follows a regular season and playoff format to determine the champion.
  3. State of Origin: The State of Origin series is an annual competition between teams representing the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland. It is known for its intense rivalry and showcases some of the best players in the Rugby League.

These competition formats in the Rugby League highlight the regional and national nature of the sport, with a strong focus on representing specific states or cities.

Popularity And Global Reach

When it comes to the world of rugby, two main codes stand out: the Rugby Union and the Rugby League. Both codes have their own unique history, rules, and following. In this section, we will explore the popularity and global reach of both the Rugby Union and the Rugby League.

Popularity Of Rugby Union

Rugby Union is widely recognized as the more popular code of rugby. The origins of rugby union can be traced back to England, where it was initially played as a gentlemen’s amateur sport. Over time, Rugby Union gained traction and spread across the globe, becoming particularly popular in countries like England, Wales, New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia. Today, it boasts a large fanbase and has a significant following in these countries.

One of the key factors contributing to the popularity of rugby union is its international tournament, the Six Nations Championship. This annual competition sees six European nations—England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Italy—compete against each other, attracting a massive audience both in-stadium and through television broadcasts. The Rugby World Cup, held every four years, further amplifies the global appeal of Rugby Union.

In addition to its international tournaments, Rugby Union has established robust club competitions like the English Premiership, Pro14, and Super Rugby. These competitions showcase the talent and skill of top teams and players, adding to the sport’s popularity.

Popularity Of Rugby League

While the Rugby League may not enjoy the same level of popularity as the Rugby Union, it has a devoted and passionate following in specific regions. Originally developed as a professional sport for working-class individuals, the Rugby League has gained popularity primarily in Australia, England, and the Pacific Islands.

The National Rugby League (NRL) in Australia is the premier rugby league competition globally. It attracts millions of viewers, and the State of Origin series, a fiercely contested annual competition between Australian states, garners significant attention.

In England, the Super League serves as the country’s top-tier Rugby League competition. The sport also has a dedicated following in Wales and France, with their respective domestic leagues.

Global Reach

When we compare the global reach of Rugby Union and Rugby League, it is safe to say that Rugby Union has a wider international presence. The Six Nations Championship, Rugby World Cup, and established club competitions ensure Rugby Union’s visibility and popularity around the world. It has seen consistent growth in countries like Japan and the United States, expanding its global reach.

On the other hand, rugby league’s influence is more concentrated in specific pockets where the sport has a passionate following. While it may not have the same level of international reach as rugby union, it remains a beloved sport in its strongholds, attracting dedicated supporters.

In conclusion, rugby union holds the upper hand in terms of popularity and global reach. Its rich history, international tournaments, and well-established club competitions contribute to its wider appeal. However, Rugby League has its own loyal fanbase and continues to thrive in specific regions where the sport is deeply ingrained.

Frequently Asked Questions On Difference Between Rugby League And Rugby Union

Which Is Harder Rugby Union Or League?

The Rugby Union and Rugby League are two different codes of rugby with distinct sets of rules. It is difficult to determine which one is harder as it depends on individual perspectives and preferences.

Is Six Nations A Union Or League?

The Six Nations is a union, not a league. It is an annual international rugby tournament played between six European countries.

Why Are There Two Types Of Rugby?

Rugby is divided into two types: Rugby Union and Rugby League. Originally, Rugby Union was played by amateurs, while Rugby League was played by working-class individuals for pay. Over time, they have developed different sets of rules while still sharing similarities.

Rugby union is more popular in terms of participation and viewership.

Why Is Rugby League Not As Popular As Rugby Union?

Rugby League is less popular than Rugby Union due to factors like historical roots, participation rates, and viewership. Politics and government bans have also influenced the discrepancy in popularity.


Rugby Union and Rugby League may share a common ancestry, but they have developed into distinctive codes of rugby with different rules and characteristics. While both sports have similarities, such as the objective of scoring tries, they also have notable differences in areas like tackling techniques and set-piece plays.

Understanding these variations can help both players and fans appreciate the unique qualities of each game. So, whether you prefer the strategic nature of Rugby Union or the fast-paced action of rugby league, both sports offer thrilling experiences that cater to different preferences and styles of play.