Rugby, a sport that captures the hearts of millions worldwide, is unique in its bifurcation into two distinct codes: Rugby Union and Rugby League. Both codes share a common origin and passion for the game, yet they have evolved into two different versions with their own rules, strategies, and competitions. This blog post aims to demystify the differences and similarities between these two codes, helping fans and newcomers alike appreciate the unique charms of both Rugby Union and Rugby League.


Origins and Evolution

Rugby Union, often simply referred to as 'rugby', is the older of the two codes, tracing its roots back to the early 19th century. Rugby League, on the other hand, originated in the late 19th century due to a split from Rugby Union over issues of player payments. This split led to the development of two distinct sets of rules, and over time, two separate sports.

Rules and Gameplay

At first glance, Rugby Union and Rugby League seem quite similar. Both involve two teams of players trying to score points by carrying, passing, or kicking an oval-shaped ball over the opponent's goal line or between goal posts. However, the differences start to emerge when you delve deeper into the rules.

Rugby Union is played with 15 players on each side, with eight forwards and seven backs. The game is characterized by rucks, mauls, and lineouts, which make for a contest of strength and strategy. Scoring includes tries (5 points), conversions (2 points), penalty kicks, and drop goals (both 3 points).

Rugby League, on the other hand, is played with 13 players, with a greater emphasis on speed and continuous play. The game features a 'tackle count' system, where the attacking team has six tackles to try and score before the ball is handed over to the opposition. Scoring includes tries (4 points), conversions (2 points), penalty kicks (2 points), and drop goals (1 point).

Competitions and Global Popularity

Both Rugby Union and Rugby League have strong followings and hold prestigious competitions. In Rugby Union, the Rugby World Cup, Six Nations (Europe), and The Rugby Championship (Southern Hemisphere) are among the most watched tournaments. Rugby League boasts of the Rugby League World Cup, the State of Origin series (Australia), and the Super League (Europe).

Globally, Rugby Union tends to have a broader reach, popular in countries like England, South Africa, New Zealand, Wales, and Ireland. Rugby League is hugely popular in Australia, England, and New Zealand, with growing interest in Pacific nations like Papua New Guinea and Tonga.


Whether you're a fan of the strategic complexity of Union or the fast-paced, hard-hitting action of League, there's no denying that both codes offer a thrilling spectacle of athleticism, skill, and sportsmanship. Despite their differences, both Rugby Union and Rugby League are united by a shared passion for the sport that transcends codes

Peter Breen