Quarterback v. Out Half (Rugby) and other questions

I was having a discussion with my rugby playing friends about the differences between rugby and American football. They all held the belief that rugby is the “tougher” sport. However, of particular interest to me were the following two points.

  1. They contend that the out half position in rugby is more challenging and demanding than the quarterback position. As such, an NFL quarterback has an easier time of it than an international level out half.

  2. That kickers in rugby are as good, if not better, than NFL kickers (I countered this argument with a simple comment about why there aren’t more rugby kickers in the NFL, definitely make more money).

So my fellow dopers, any thoughts (as an FYI I don’t know enough about rugby to discuss the nuances of the outhalf position.

You mean half back, I take it. In rugby league, the half tends to be the player who organises the play, however as the game is a lot faster and has less stoppages than American football, there’s less emphasis on set plays. A good half will have an excellent passing game, organise well, take on the line at judicious moments, and usually solid kicking game too.

Generally in the rugby codes, kickers have have a number of tasks, line finders, up and unders, chips, grubbers, cross kicks etc… All of which, the more precisely performed the better.

I’d say that they’re probably talking about fly-halves/first five-eighths rather than half-backs.
An international first-five must be able to dictate the game through accurate kicks, passes and the odd break as well as being a decent tackler on defence. Most kick goals as well. Oh, and remember that the first-five will make the calls on the field as well as there’s no communication with the coaches during the games.

Current famous examples include Dan Carter (probably the best at the moment) and Jonny Wilkinson

Quarterbacks to me seem to have a far more specialised role with greater emphasis on precise execution than anything we see in rugby. Which is tougher is a bit of a toss-up really.

As for goal-kicking, remember in rugby the kick is taken in line with where the try is scored (or where the penalty was awarded) so often goal-kicks are taken from near the sidelines. A good kicker should get around 80% of their shots at goal. How much do NFL kickers make?

Here’s a you tube video of Carter highlights showing some tries and shots at goal. No real tactical kicking or tackling though (which he also does pretty well).

Interestingly enough, 80% is roughly the benchmark for an NFL kicker, for field goals of under 50 yards. For extra points, more than one or two misses in a season and you’ll probably be looking for work.

NFL kickers also have different tasks, punters especially. Short accurate punts placed just outside the end zone are very valuable in American football

I’m sure Rugby kickers aren’t better than NFL kickers, or vice versa- both are at the very top of a huge potential talent pool, there’s no reason why one sport’s best would be more talented than the other’s

NFL Quarterbacks must memorize a ridiculous amount of data. They watch hundreds of hours of game films and memorize dozens and dozens of different defensive formations, and each different team has its own unique playbook to learn. A good quarterback will recognize the defensive set on every play and know how effective it is against the current offensive play about to be run, and if necessary change the play to one better suited for the defense at the last second.

What the heck is an out half? Same as a fly half?

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NFL quarterbacks need to be more intelligent because of the ridiculously complex offensive systems most top-tier teams use. Rugby backs have to be better athletes, though - and fly halves have to be able to kick. Even scrum halves have to be able to box kick.

That said, throwing deep forward passes to moving targets is a lot harder than rugby passing. I’d say it about evens out.

There’s a very good reason - kickers and punters are marginal positions in American Football. Players who kick the ball a lot in rugby (fly halves and full backs) are arguably the most important players on the field.

Nobody plays youth football with the goal of becoming a top-flight kicker one day. They’re decent athletes who aren’t good enough to play offense or defense at higher levels and settle for kicking, for the most part. Most scholastic-level kickers and punters play other positions too - quarterback, safety and so on.

Having been a very good (rugby) placekicker in my youth, I’m not sure I could ever have adapted to the snap-hold-kick placekicking system used in football. It’s totally different - like playing golf, and then trying to play golf with someone blocking your swing.

Having said all that, I do not understand why punters all use the straight-leg punt. Sure, you can boot the ball a mile into the air, but you cannot do it accurately. Most NFL punters are lucky to land the ball within a dozen yards of their targets, and none of them seem to be able to hit the coffin corner punt anymore.

By contrast, the top fly halves and full backs in international rugby can place the ball in the last five meters of the touch line blindfolded, and even hit drop goals* from 50 meters out should attest to their accuracy.

*like a field goal, only not a place kick.

Interesting. If a rugby-style kick technique were superior to a football punt technique, I’m surprised that it hasn’t been tried already, especially given that soccer-style placekicking has been used for over 40 years, and it entirely killed off the old toe-style placekicking over 20 years ago.

That said, we have had several Aussie football players who’ve come to the US and been successful punters (Darren Bennett, who played for the Chargers for a while, and Sav Rocca, who now plays for the Eagles).

The rugby punt is making something of a comeback, at least in college football. Matt Prater (formerly of UCF, now the placekicker for the Denver Broncos) was arguably the most effective punter in the nation as a sophomore and junior, and he used the rugby-style punt exclusively.

Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt and a few other teams have since picked it up.

I don’t know that much about rugby, but for the sake of furthering the discussion, here’s what a quarterback in football needs to do:

1. Relay the play in the huddle. Yes, the coach is usually the one calling the play, but you’d be surprised how many people can’t remember six words at a time - I was reading recently about a (college) team who had receivers carry the play from the sideline to the QB, and it became problematic because the receivers couldn’t remember the terms.
2. Help line everyone up. Given experienced and intelligent teammates, this isn’t much of a duty since the other 10 guys should know their jobs and do it themselves, but as the leader of the offense, the buck stops with the QB. Even a small screwup (such as being on the line of scrimmage when they’re supposed to be a step back) can mess things up.
3. Call out blocking protections and hot routes. Sometimes this duty is split with the center, but not always. And the center usually can’t see much more than the front defensive line; the QB has to read everything else (possible blitzers, types of coverage, etc.) If the play is designed with variable routes depending on the defense, he’ll also need to call that out to the receivers.
4. Call out audibles. While the amount of this varies with the team, the average QB is expected to be able to change the play (and make sure everyone hears him) depending on the defense.
5. Run the snap count. Sure, it’s pretty automatic, but it’s another thing they need to do. And they have to keep the play clock in mind.
(The ball play hasn’t even started yet!)
6. Receive the snap. Also pretty automatic, but fumbles happen.
7. Handoff, or drop back and start reading the defense. This is harder than it sounds and is actually one of the most important skills a QB can have. Being able to do this well seperates the decent QBs from the good ones. (Jeff Tedford was rumored to have his QBs only read half the field, which is possibly why all his guys bust in the NFL). Even many NFL first-round QBs can’t read a defense or go through their progressions properly. And this all has to be done in roughly 3 seconds, while you’re paying attention to make sure 250 pound men aren’t ripping your face off yet.
8A. Throw the ball. Easier said than done. Need to have a nice tight spiral, good power, good distance, good aim. Lots of plays require throwing it to a spot where only the receiver and not a defender can catch it. At the NFL level, it’s a must to be able to throw it to a receiver in stride since its rare to have a guy wide open in the middle of the field.
8B. Run or abort. Receiver isn’t open? Better start running away from those 250 pound men who are likely nipping at your heels by now. And you better be tough if they are there, because QBs get hit harder than anyone else, considering that they’re usually sitting ducks given how they have to stand when preparing to throw.

The responsibilities can pile up the smarter the QB is, too. Peyton Manning calls his own plays, for example - he’s basically the QB and the offensive coordinator at this point.

Slight hijack: Aaron Rodgers has, so far, defied that history of Tedford’s QBs.

That brings up something interesting.

At the college level, it’s not so uncommon for one player to handle both punting and placekicking. At the pro level, we haven’t had a player successfully handle both duties for at least the past 30 years. There have been a very few players who tried to do both (Russell Erxleben comes to mind in the early 80s), but, for whatever reason, they struggle when trying to handle both kicking and punting (Erxleben, for example, wound up becoming a pure punter).

Naas Botha, a great kicking South African flyhalf of the 70/80’s tried to switch to the NFL and failed - he had a trial for the Cowboys in 1983, but it didn’t work out - IIRC he said that the weight of the uniform unbalanced him. Personally I think it would have been the weight of the oncoming defence, Naas was never a master of the physical aspects of the game…

The NFL used to be like rugby in that they didn’t wear pads and all they got for a helmet was the hair on their head. So many people died that the government forced them to adopt safety measues or get banned. Is rugby filled with on-field player deaths? If not, it’s not tougher than the NFL was before padding and helmets were introduced.

As for the padding and helmet effect, all they do is make players hit harder and more frequently. Speaking of which, as I understand it you’re not allowed to block in rugby. It’s more like hockey where you can only hit the guy with the ball. Tackles in the NFL are a vanishingly small amount of contact in the sport. The vast majority is blocking, which is often quite violent in the trenches.

In conclusion, the NFL has far more hits and much harder hits than rugby, such that without padding you would flat out die. Yeah, rugby’s much tougher.

Yeah, I’m lost on that as well. I was thinking the scrum half would be the most likely quarterback equivalent, but most here seem to be going on the fly half equivalency.

Anyway, I’d agree that there is no position in rugby that has anything close to what a quarterback brings to the team in American football. However, I’d then go to say that the opposite works for kickers. There is no position in American football that has to deal with the same amount of situations as a kicker in rugby. Not only does a decent rugby kicker have to be able to kick for goal from anywhere on the pitch - ie. not just in front of the goal - meaning that the target becomes much smaller, but kicking under pressure from the opposition is much more common. Punt equivalents are regularly performed with the man on top of you and whilst running, yet still retaining the accuracy and distance, but also the drop goal (a type of kick for goal where the ball is dropped on its end and kicked a split second after it hits the ground) is performed from all sorts of angles and under the sort of pressure that an American football player will rarely see.

So in essence, I agree with what some other posters have said in that barriers to a rugby kicker coming to American football are the equipment and ball shape, whereas the barriers to an American football kicker coming to rugby are that the kicker is much more involved with the actual game rather than being a special guy that is brought on now and again and that there is a far greater variety of tasks.

Finally, someone (the OP) mentioned about one game being more physical that the other. That’s what rugby fans say just to wind up American football fans. It is all in jest - we know that both games are incredibly physical in their own way.

Random bit of silliness:
I went to school just outside the town of Rugby in Warwickshire, England. I ended up playing flanker for the District of Rugby Schools, so in essence I played rugby for Rugby. Not the famous Rugby School though - I’m not that posh.

Tackling styles. In rugby you are taught not to hit the man with your head. The head goes to the side of the man and you wrap your arms around him.

The most contact in rugby is probably the ruck or the maul, both of which are very physical (and all sorts of things can be done without the referee seeing) and have no equivalent full stop in American football due to the ban on holding.

People do die playing rugby as well, but the physical nature isn’t based purely on the hits. One cause for concern is the breaking of necks in the front row of a collapsed scrum.

But calm down, it is all in jest. Stop getting so defensive.

Interesting. Seems like it might be higher percentage than trying to tackle somebody with your head. Maybe that technique will eventually find its way into the NFL.

One other thing, for those that don’t know there are two codes of rugby (ignoring the condensed versions like sevens, the version that will be coming to the Olympics): rugby union and rugby league.

The discussion here seems to be mostly about union. League is a whole different kettle of fish and, IMHO, is far closer to American football in rules. For example, it has an equivalent to the idea of downs and when you run out of downs the ball is handed to the opposition. They don’t, however, have the “go ten yards and get a first down again” idea. IIRC they have five “downs” (or tackles in league’s language) to get all the way to the goal line, down from six about twenty years ago.

It may be difficult with the padding. My opinion (and I am open to being wrong) is that a lot of the style of American football is a result of the padding. Hits with the head and harder hits are a bit easier/safer with the padding. It all ends up, IMHO, averaging out and they are all, both American football and rugby players, hard bastards.

For what its worth, padding is actually allowed in rugby, but it is quite limited in terms of material and thickness. It is only soft padding, but you do see players with helmets (if you can call them that) and many (if not all - I’m not an expert here) professionals will wear it under their shirt.

I was mocking the idea that NFL players (or anyone) would tackle or hit somebody with their head. Doing so is a 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty. NFL tackling is done the same way as rugby: lead with the shoulder and wrap them up.

Therefore your rebuttal has no merit.

EDIT: How many rucks/mauls are there in the average game?