fewere injuries in rugby vs. American football?

I’ve watched a lot of American football. But I’ve only seen short clips of rugby games. It seems to me that the two games have a lot in common–i.e. big men running into each other at high speed. So why do rugby players have fewer injuries?

American football players wear lots of protective gear, and the rules of the game are carefully designed to minimize injury(no roughing the passer, no piling on after a tackle, no touching the punt kicker, no helmet-to-helmet contact.) But there are still lots of injuries, simply because two 250-pound objects hitting each other ,well,… hurts.

In a typical football game, there is one serious injury that causes a player to be taken off to the locker room, and maybe 5 other cases where a player has trouble getting up on his feet after a tackle, and then staggers off the field to rest on the bench for the next 10-15 minutes before re-entering the game.
Does this happen much in rugby?

Rugby players , I think, run faster, and hit each other just as hard or harder than football players. And the standard dive-across-the-goal-line-to-score-a-try involves a scary-looking (to me) thud when you hit the ground. How do they survive?

Probably the biggest reason IMO is that in rugby, you only (legally) hit the individual who is carrying the ball.
I also think, tho, that a hard helmet and pads allows an American footballer to be less cautious and use his body as a weapon.

Rugby often looks more punishing than it is. The rules have evolved over time with safety being a major concern. A tackle consists of grasping the player to bring them to the ground, which means there aren’t numerous flailing limbs to be broken, and the tackling player has to prepare to move with the weight of the running opponent, rather than simply charging into them. Hitting the ground only hurts if you land very awkwardly - it’s only grass, after all.

Also, although constantly increasing, rugby players are, I believe, still substantially lighter on average than American football players.

Rugby has a number of rules outlawing dangerous tackles, including hitting anyone above the shoulders. Also, when someone is airborne (and thereby vulnerable) the rules would not allow an undercutting, as you often see with receivers who jump. I think, however, the biggest reason is related to the nature of the game. In football, you will have safeties who are 10-15 yards downfield running directly at a receiver who is sprinting in their direction. The head-on collision is bound to be violent. In rugby, due to the flow of the game, the prohibition of the forward pass (although you can kick it forward) and the offsides rules, you will not have this same type of collision frequently.

I think, however, that the biggest reason is the lack of safety equipment. The presence of the helmet in football leads to it being used as a weapon, sometime illegally (spearing or hitting with the top of the helmet), but often legally (hitting with the front of the helmet).

There are injuries in rugby, many of which would be common with football, most notably knee injuries that happen when someone rolls up a leg. It seems, to a casual fan at least, that most rugby injuries are cuts and temporary dings.

Those hard hats may well protect the head, but it means that striking some other part of your body against one may do some damage, a knee crashing into a helmet will hurt.

Knees against head in rugby will hurt, but there doen’t seem to be the same effect.

The whole protection thing means that players will hit harder and take more risks.

American footballers are not usually expected to play the whole game, they might only be on the pitch for 10 minutes at a time, it means they can play much more intensively.

Rubgy players will play the whole game, and its not usually the stop and go stuff, it can be continuous rolling play, you just cannot play as intensively, you wouldn’t last the match.

American football players are nancy boys whereas rugby players are real men, in rugby you do not show up any pain, if you can, its a sign of weakness. :slight_smile:

Watch a full international rugby match, South Africa vs New Zealand for instance, and then compare the hits those boys take with the American Footballers.

In truth, I do think American football has harder impacts, and mainly because its played in short intense bursts.

According to my dad (retired professor of orthopedics), collapsed rugby scrums used to be the #2 reason for paraplegia in the UK after motorcycle crashes. IIRC, collapsing a scrum didn’t used to result in any kind of penalty. Now, however, it does, and those injuries have been reduced. High tackles have also been outlawed.

Scrummages in rugby cause a few broken necks every year, but it seems to my untutored eye that referees are much quicker to break up a malforming scrum than perhaps they were previously, at least at international level. One thing that rugby has over American football is ear damage. I met the Barbarians* about ten years ago and the props appeared to have flesh coloured Brussels Sprouts in place of regular ears (and they all had broken noses).

  • an invitation-only international touring side

Scrummages can indeed be very dangerous. Back in the days when replacements were allowed only to replace injured players, I recall a prop-forward getting sent off. Another player on the same team then faked an injury so he could be replaced by a prop-forward. The commentators stated that this was an accepted practice as to have another player attempt to play the prop position at international level was downright dangerous.

For what it is worth, the opinion of true football officials and executives (we’re talking soccer here) is that adding protection makes players more willing to engage in dangerous play. This is why football persistently resists efforts to allow players to wear equipment designed to protect them from injury (such as knee pads, elbow pads, etc.).

I’ve played a lot of rugby. I don’t think there is nearly as much running square at someone else as in gridiron (“American”) football. The game is a lot more fluid. There’s a fair amount of low speed collisions, and of course lots of contact, but not necessarily two large missiles heading at each other.

I think that part of it is that good players don’t want to get tied up with their opponent. You want to make the tackle and then immediately play the ball if you can, so you have to be ready to let go and move on. Since the action doesn’t stop, you can’t ram your opponent and knock each other silly.

Big collisions do occur, particularly when Americans used to playing football get on the rugby pitch. They inevitably lead to injuries. I’ve seen a fair number of broken noses and various shoulder injuries in American games. My overseas friends attribute this to the “football attitude”.

As others have noted, when you don’t wear protective equipment a hard contact hurts you. And, it’s pointless. It’s better to wrestle someone to the ground like a cowboy does with a calf. That way, if your opponent passes off, you’re not sitting on the ground out of play.

I got lots of cuts, scrapes, and bruises as a forward, and for a couple of days after a game I couldn’t raise my arms over my shoulders from the stress of being in the scrum, but no broken bones. I saw one broken nose and one separated shoulder.

The “leaping slide for a touch” looks spectacular, but it isn’t that painful on a nice pitch. The ground is reasonably soft, and you’re landing on grass. IMHO, the worst that could happen is “road rash” on your forearms.

One thing is for certain: I doubt anyone plays rugby on artificial turf. My club was once given the “opportunity” to play on Franklin Field at Penn, which at that time was covered with Astroturf. We turned it down. Astroturf is about as soft as concrete. I think you have to be nuts to play football on it.

Astro-turf is very “grippy” - it’s a high friction surface, which means once a player’s foot is planted it’ll stay where it is. When a player is hit, the foot cannot give way, meaning the force tends to end up in the knee or ankle resulting in some horrific “twisting” breaks of legs.

Real turf, on the other hand, will give way much quicker, allowing the force of a challenge to be dissipated before the knee/ankle are put under too much stress, resulting in fewer breaks.

However, during the last world cup a number of coaches and trainers commented that injuries are increasing rapidly in rugby as players get bigger and bigger.

You used to have two types of rugger players - forwards and back.

Forwards were large, lumbering bruisers who would do lots of grappling, but would rarely get enough speed up to hit each other full force.

Backs tended to be lithe and whippy, and would avoid most hard challenges by having it away on their toes when danger appeared.

What you see in teams now are highly-toned 6ft 18st athletes, with forwards able to run 100m in sub-12 secs, and backs able to nail an opponent in the tackle.

Modern training methods means muscle bulk is easy to generate, but it doesn’t always scale up to joints and tendons.

To my knowledge, at the professional level, a player who isn’t a specialist prop cannot replace another prop.

At the amateur level, what usually happens is that the new player comes on and the scrum is then made uncontested. This happened to me, two weeks ago. I was asked to hook, despite never having done it before. I told the captain I wasn’t normally a hooker, he asked the referee for uncontested scrums, and the opposition agreed. It would be very bad form for an opposition team to make a fuss.

There’s also two different types of rugby. In my experience, the tackling in Union isn’t as ``hard" as it is in League, due to the fact that an attacking player will usually set himself up for recycling of the ball before being hit. In League, this isn’t a concern, so you get massive hits, with huge guys like Paleaseana (sp?) for Wigan running full tilt into a defensive line with a 25m run up.

EDIT: it’s also becoming standard these days for players to wear body armour under their shirts. So, although they don’t look protected, chances are that they are.

How big are rugby players, anyway? It seems to me that this must be the major factor, since assuming the players run at about the same speed in both sports, more mass => more energy in the collision. Does rugby involve any impacts that compare to being jumped on by a 350-pound defensive tackle?

This is why I think the NFL should gradually impose a 275-pound weight limit. Injuries have a terrible effect on the excellence of the sport, since the players most vulnerable to them are those who play the most – i.e. the best ones!

Another major factor which has been touched on, is the direction of the hits. In Rugby (League or Union) the nature of the game, both sides lined up facing off against each other, no forward passing allowed means that >95% of all tackles are seen and can be anticipated by the ball carrier.

Example, most plays are a player receiving the ball and running it up towards the oppositions line, he can brace for the tackle just before he gets to the opposition player.

Whereas in the NFL (and Aussie Rules for that matter) a higher percentage of tackles, especially on Receivers, can come from an unexpected direction, where the ballcarrier is unaware of and is not prepared for the hit.

I played American football at university in the British Collegiate League, and even at that level (pretty low), the hits were hard. When you lock your helmet into the back of the shoulderpads, you essentially become a battering ram. I played O-line, and a number of times I knocked players clean off their feet with the front of my helmet. I was also knocked out by a blindside hit, after the the end of play I might add.

I haven’t read through every post, but Rugby tends to be about grabbing your opponent, or really he’s more of an obstacle, so that there is a lot of ‘give’, and you then throw them out of the way to get past. In American Football, it seems to me that the idea is to just slam into each other and stop them point blank, causing a lot more sudden a stop each time. Laws of physics being what they are, and all that.

Other answers touch on this but I think one word that summarises one of the reasons is commitment. I haven’t watched US football enough to properly understand it but from what I’ve seen, while the ball is passed, the passes are highly limited. In Rugby, the ball is passed around continually. Much of the time if a tackler commits himself, fully and at speed, to tackle the ball carrier, the latter will just pass off, leaving the tackler with no chance of diverting himself off to tackle the new ball carrier, resulting in the new ball carrier potentially making a break. In both rugby codes, the tackler has to keep his speed down till the point where they are absolutely sure of the tackle.

Haven’t played in 25 years (what’s that in stone?) but I recall on opponent who had a back who was as you describe - 6’, built, and ran with his knees up. Hitting him high did nothing, and it really took a lot to convince myself to dive thru those knees. But yeah, most of the backs were these puny little scrawny subhuman species.

I don’t think too many of those NFL big boys could handle hauling all that weight up and down pitch thru rugby’s constant action, without a nice little breather after 20 seconds of effort, and then a nice spell on the bench.

Just to add

Modern rugby scrums are tightly regulated to avoid neck injuries. If a team runs out of specialist prop forwards, then the ref will make all scrums uncontested (no shoving, side with put-in will claim the ball). This can favour a weak side, as the dominant side cannot push the scrum over the ball to claim possession.

In fact, during the World Cup the ref used uncontested scrums several times when non-competitive sides were being overwhelmed in the scrum by top-flight teams.


Most NFL stadiums that have switched to an artificial surface use Field Turf. It’s a long way away from the old astro-turf. The newer types of turf feel a lot lot a grass field, without the divots or mud. They even sew in strands of artificial grass. I’ve been on a few of these types of turf and I would think rugby (I never played) would perform quite well on them. It is a little strange to see a game on a rainy day and watch players smash into the wet turf and then get up without a hint of dirt on them.