Soccer and Rugby: Differences and Similarities Explained

Soccer and rugby are two games that are great to get kids involved in. Everybody knows that team sports are an excellent chance for kids to make friends, keep fit, and develop coordination and confidence as they learn more about playing their sport.

When playing rugby, the athletes are required to kick the ball over a bar with two goal posts shaped like an “H.” In soccer, the goal is to kick the ball past the goalie into a net.

In this article, we’ll break down some of the key similarities between soccer and rugby and help you get started on becoming an expert in the two sports.

An image of gentlemen playing rugby game in the field.

Is Rugby the Same as Football (Soccer)?

Rugby and football (soccer) are similar but they are not the same, with differences in rules, the ball, and play. Both originated in the U.K. and are huge sports globally. Soccer is considered the world’s most popular sport, while rugby has a large following in Australia, Europe, and South Africa.

This is the right place for someone looking to learn about soccer and rugby. These two sports have a fair bit in common, but far more differences to learn about, whether in how to score, the exact rules of each sport, or how difficult they are to play.

Please read below to learn about the basic differences between soccer and rugby before we get stuck into some technical items, such as what drills are required, which field is bigger, and what sport is easier.  

Similarities And Differences Between Soccer and Rugby

Soccer and rugby are both major global sports with huge followings internationally. While they’re both still growing underdogs in the U.S., soccer is considered the world’s most popular sport, and rugby also has a massive following in Europe, Australia, and South Africa in particular.

Both sports trace their origins to the U.K. and can attribute part of their spread of popularity to the reach of the British Empire – but today, they’re huge sports that anyone can get involved in, no matter where they live.

Read all that is needed to know about the fundamental differences between soccer and rugby here:

Scoring: Soccer vs Rugby

One significant difference between rugby and soccer is how the points are scored. In soccer, it’s simple – kick the ball in the other team’s goal, and you’ll achieve one goal (point)!

In rugby, scoring is more complicated. There are five ways to score points:

  1. Tries (worth five points).
  2. Conversions (worth two points).
  3. Penalty tries (worth seven points).
  4. Penalty kicks (worth three points).
  5. Drop goals (worth three points).

Tries are awarded when a team successfully places the ball on the ground in the area past the ‘try line’ (the line of the pitch where the posts are).

Crucially, the player must be in contact with the ball the whole time as it’s put on the floor for the try to count. An attempt is worth five points.  

When a team scores a try, they’ll also have the chance to score a conversion. If the player can kick the ball from the floor over the posts, they’ll score an additional 2 points.

The player must take the kick in line with where they scored the try, but it’s up to the kicker to decide how far forwards or back from the try line they’d like to take the kick.

One extra technicality in the scoring is what’s known as a penalty try. A penalty try is awarded when the referee deems the foul play has prevented a certain try.

The referee indicates this by running underneath the posts and lifting his arm. After a penalty try, there is no conversion attempt, with all seven points automatically awarded.

There are two more types of scoring in rugby, both worth three points each. A penalty kick is one option that can be chosen when the other team uses foul play.

If preferred, the player can use their penalty to try to kick the ball from the floor through the opponent’s posts. If they manage this, they’ll be awarded three points.

A drop goal is a similar kick, but rather than taking place after a penalty happens in open play, a player may attempt a drop kick by dropping the ball and kicking it immediately after it touches the floor.

The team is awarded three points if this kick goes through the posts. Drop goals are rare but often dramatic, such as Johnny Wilkinson’s famous kick to win the 2003 World Cup Final!

Play: Rugby compared to Soccer (football)

While watching a game of soccer and a game of rugby, we’ll soon find that the gameplay is dramatically different.

Soccer is easy to get the hang of – the team can kick the ball to each other in any direction and try to kick the ball in the other team’s goal. Only the goalkeeper, or goalie, can pick up the ball with their hands.

Rugby is a little more complicated. Teams split into the forwards (the bigger, more physical players) and the backs (often smaller and faster) to compete in running the ball up the field.

The player can only throw the ball sideways or backward (no quarterback-style throws), and the other team can stop anyone with the ball by tackling them to the ground.

One of the first things we’ll notice about rugby is physicality. It’s a game that’s well known for being physically demanding, as we know if we’ve seen the episode of Friends where Ross joins a rugby team.

To properly understand the differences in play, it’s better to learn a little about the rules (or ‘laws’ as they’re known in both sports). So, read on to learn about some of the critical differences in the laws of soccer and rugby!  

Want to know more about some of the specific rules for a goalie playing soccer? I wrote this article: Can A Soccer Goalie Bounce The Ball? (Rules Clarified). I think it’ll help you and your family be better goalies.

Rules of Football vs Rugby

The laws of soccer and rugby are dramatically different, and both sports have plenty of technicalities to get stuck with. First, however, let’s investigate a few of the most significant similarities and differences.

The main principle of soccer is that all players (except goalkeepers) must control the ball without using their hands, scoring points when kicking it into the opposition’s goal.

In rugby, there are more ways to score (check out the details above), but the game’s main principle is to gain territory by running down the pitch while holding the ball.

In both sports, the ball must remain within the field of play. So, when the player kicks the ball out of the field in soccer, it’s returned to play an overhead throw-in to go to any player on the pitch.

In rugby, the ball is returned to play with an overhead throw, but in a more complicated setup known as the line-out.

In the line-out, both teams form horizontal lines of players next to where the ball went. The player then throws the ball into the middle of the lines, and players are allowed to jump to try to catch the ball.

Then, the players are lifted, meaning that this is a gymnastic affair, with tremendous athletes thrown ten feet into the air to catch the ball.

Tackling players is another stark difference in the laws of the two games. In soccer, a player is tackled by removing the ball from their control. The crucial part of the tackle in the rules of soccer is that the person must get the ball before encountering the other player.

In rugby, contact is the crucial element of the tackle. For example, players may tackle a player with the ball (if they are on the floor, not jumping for the ball) by using their shoulders to knock them to the ground.

They must also wrap their arms around the other player and return them to the ground safely (not on their neck or head). They must also not make contact above the shoulder, as this will cause a penalty for a high tackle.

Drills Used in Soccer Vs Rugby

In soccer and rugby, beginners’ drills focus on the basics. For soccer, this may be passing and shooting. In rugby, this is likely to focus on passing, tackling, and position-specific skills such as line-out lifting and scrummaging.

Once we have played the sport a bit longer, we’ll develop more position-based skills. For example, this might be a defender focusing on tackling and marking players in soccer.

This may be a forward working on rucking or a back perfecting kicking technique in rugby.

The exact drills vary from team to team, but they all focus on building foundational skills.

An image of a Male soccer player hits the ball on the soccer field.

Which field is bigger: soccer or rugby?

The soccer field is larger and must be between 131 -136 yards long and 87 – 93 yards wide in soccer. There must also be about two yards outside the pitch for safety concerns. A rugby pitch must be 115 – 133 yards long by 74-77 yards wide.

Both soccer and rugby allow for variation in the field size (or pitch) but are similar. Soccer pitches do come out slightly larger. The players use the same pitches for both sports at the amateur or school level.

Which is Better: Soccer or Rugby?

The question of which sport is better primarily comes down to personal preference, as both soccer (football) and rugby are physical sports that are great to play and/or spectate.

Soccer has plenty of benefits.

  • Soccer is easy to learn.
  • It’s easy to organize a relaxed game.
  • It’s relatively cheap to play.

Rugby has its own benefits.

  • It’s a game for all body types.
  • Rugby is an involved team sport where every player matters.
  • Rugby gives players an intense, full-body workout.

Let’s go into these in some more detail, though.

Reasons to pick football (soccer) over rugby

Soccer is easy to learn.

Soccer is simple, and although there are some nuances to its laws, we don’t need to know much to get out there playing!

Rugby has a few more laws, which will take some time to get used to as a fan or player.

It’s relatively easy to organize relaxed games (or pickup games) of football.

Soccer is suitable for having a casual game in the park or backyard. Goalposts can be made with sweaters on the floor (or anything else on hand), and away we go!

Soccer is also suitable to be played with mixed-age and mixed-gender teams with no problem, meaning you can play as a family.

Rugby (and non-contact forms such as touch rugby) can also be played in the park but works better with at least five players on each side, whereas soccer can be great even with one or two.

Football is pretty cheap to play, especially compared to other equipment-heavy sports.

The only equipment needed for a relaxed soccer game is a ball. Of course, if playing a little more seriously, we’ll need more equipment, such as shin pads and boots, but it’s still minimal.

Rugby also has very little equipment (the same as soccer, plus a mouth guard), but playing without a proper field is more challenging due to the necessary lines and posts.

When to pick rugby over soccer (football)

Rugby is a game for all body types.

Rugby positions are split between the forwards (physical players) and backs (speed/agility-based players). Between these, there’s a space for all levels of fitness and body types.

  • Wider, heavier players may be well suited to the forward positions such as the props (numbers one and three), whereas smaller, more agile players would be better suited to the wings (eleven and fifteen).
  • Tall players fit in well as locks/second rows (four and five), but there’s space for all sorts all over the pitch, with distinct roles that may suit any skill set, from being better at sprinting to tackling.

Soccer players have some room for body type variety, but a lot of the variety tends to do more with height than body shape. Which is why a lot of people wonder, Does Soccer Make You Taller? We wrote a comprehensive answer there, so go check it out – the answer will give you some cool things to think about.

Rugby is an involved team sport.

The intensity and physicality of rugby games will undoubtedly bring us close to our teammates. Rugby is famous for forming strong bonds between its players!

Whereas in soccer, one agile or highly skilled player can carry a team – the nature of rugby is that each player has an essential role, and the team can’t be strong without everyone working together.

This means it’s a sport where regardless of our skills, our role is crucial.

Full-body fitness is a must in rugby – and it’ll happen just by playing.

The balance of strength and fitness required to be a good rugby player means that playing this sport develops great full-body fitness! Players will run in all directions tackling, kicking, and lifting teammates throughout a rugby game.

An image of a group of boys Playing Soccer At Field.

Which is Easier: Soccer or Rugby?

It depends entirely on the player’s preferences and strengths. For example, if someone is light, agile, and good at kicking the ball, they may find that football/soccer is a natural fit – but equally, some positions in rugby (for example, ten, the ‘fly half’) would also be a good fit for that player.

If someone finds throwing easier than kicking or is naturally more suited to the physicality of a full-contact sport, then they might discover rugby is easier.

At the high school level, it’s pretty standard for athletes to play rugby and football before choosing either sport to specialize in later.

Welsh soccer star Gareth Bale (who recently signed for Los Angeles FC) is a famous example, alongside many other British rugby and soccer players.

Will Soccer Be Easy for a Rugby Player?

Professional rugby players tend to be much bigger than their soccer counterparts. Still, at amateur and youth levels, the fitness is similar enough that a decent rugby player shouldn’t have too many problems transferring skills across these sports, though ease is never guaranteed.

Depending on the skills of the rugby player, soccer might be easy for them to learn. But, for sure, the easiest part of picking up soccer is the simple laws.

An image of Young soccer players standing together united and listening coach motivational speech.

Will Rugby Be Easy for a Soccer Player?

If a soccer player can handle the physicality of rugby, then it can be a great mix. On the other hand, agility and fitness are fantastic attributes for a rugby player, and although the kicking technique is slightly different, it’s a valuable skill to transfer between sports.

That’s not to say the sport will be easy – there are plenty of laws and skills (particularly in the physical parts of the game) to learn, but it is easy to pick these up at an early age.

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

Rugby and soccer (football) are both amazing sports that are gaining popularity in the United States. Personally, I’ve played and enjoyed both, though they were definitely pickup games played in school and physical education class, and not competitive (beyond the natural competition of 6th graders).

Both can be a lot of fun, and both can be as safe as the players work to make it. So get out there and enjoy both sports.

To help you learn more about soccer, make sure you check out these other articles and resources we’ve created for you. We’ll work on getting some more rugby articles written, too!


Learning from your own experiences is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as a family of sports nuts wannabes.

  • “International Football Association Board | Laws of the Game | IFAB.” IFAB, Accessed 8 July 2022.
  • Soccer, Authority, and Authority Soccer. “Soccer Vs Rugby: 10 Differences and 10 Similarities.” Authority Soccer, Accessed 8 July 2022.
  • “Laws of the Game | World Rugby Laws.” World Rugby, Accessed 8 July 2022.

There’s a lot to learn about these two fantastic sports, so thankfully there are plenty of fantastic resources out there to help you! Check out these websites, which helped us write this article.

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