difference between rugby league and union

Distinguishing between Rugby League and Rugby Union

Rugby is a popular sport that enjoys a large following across many countries. It is a contact sport played with an oval-shaped ball, high levels of physicality and requires excellent teamwork, agility, and endurance. However, there are two main versions of rugby: Rugby Union and Rugby League. Although they have similar gameplay, they have significant differences.

Setup and Rules

Rugby Union is the older of the two codes, and its governing body is World Rugby. Rugby Union has a team of fifteen players on each side, an eighty-minute match duration, and the game played on a rectangular field. The team players are divided into forwards and backs, with the scrum-half as the primary ball distributor. Rugby Union players are allowed a maximum of six tackles per possession before they must surrender the ball.

On the other hand, Rugby League has a team of thirteen players on each side, a game duration of eighty minutes, and it is played on an oval field. Unlike Rugby Union, Rugby League has a “six tackle” rule, which means the attacking team has six chances to advance the ball up to the field to score a try. This rule makes it a faster code with frequent possession transitions. Rugby League is primarily governed across the world by the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF).

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Playing Positions and Scoring

Rugby Union has a standard set of playing positions for the fifteen players, divided into forwards and backs. The forwards’ primary responsibility is to win the ball in the scrum, lineout, ruck, or maul, while the backs are responsible for attacking and scoring tries. Rugby Union awards five points for a successful try and two points for a successful conversion kick.

Rugby League has a different set of playing positions for the thirteen players, and it is not divided into forwards and backs. The rugby league players have specific assignments for the match, such as prop, hooker, half-back, fullback, etc. In Rugby League, a try is awarded with four points, and no conversion kicks are allowed. Two points are awarded for a successful goal kick and a drop goal.


In a nutshell, while Rugby Union and Rugby League have similarities, they have differences that set them apart. Rugby League is a more straightforward, faster game that emphasizes athleticism, while Rugby Union is more technical, tactical and emphasizes possession and set pieces. Rugby Union attracts a larger following globally and is more structured, with established international competitions, while Rugby League is embraced more in certain areas of the world, including Europe and Australia. Both versions of rugby share the same spirit of teamwork, physicality, and sportsmanship.

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Table difference between rugby league and union

Rugby League Rugby Union
13 players in a team 15 players in a team
6 tackles before possession is turned over No limit on number of tackles
No line-outs Line-outs to restart play
No rucks or mauls Rucks and mauls used to contest possession
Kick can be taken out of hands or off tee Only kick out of hands allowed
One point for a conversion kick Two points for a conversion kick
Games are played in quarters Games are played in halves